Webinar on “Thailand’s Generation Z: From Future Forward to Free Youth?”


In this webinar, Prof Duncan McCargo shares his insights from working on his latest book (Future Forward – The Rise and Fall of a Thai Political Party, co-authored with Anyarat Chattharakul) in which he examine the rapid success and demise of the short-lived Future Forward Party in Thailand and what drove the phenomenon. 



Webinar on “Thailand’s COVID-Induced Economic Crisis: An Opening for Reforms?”


In this webinar Dr Rattana Lao and Mr Thomas Parks from the Thailand office of the Asia Foundation will present key findings from a series of current research projects — covering online learning, education reform, the impact of COVID on small business and Thailand’s middle-income trap challenges. 



Webinar on “One Year after Taking Office, Can Prayut Chan-ocha’s Administration Survive?”


In this webinar, Dr Punchada Sirivunnabood addressed a set of scenarios for the near-term future of Thai politics, touching on challenges to the stability of the government, and especially the role of the young generation in politics; on the role of the opposition parties; on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and on conflicts within the Phalang Pracharat Party.



Seminar on “Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Prospects”


Professor Yos Santasombat spoke at a Thailand Studies Programme seminar on the contemporary relationship between China and ASEAN countries.



Seminar: Shifting Plantations in the Mekong Borderlands: A Challenge of Chinese Economic Influence in Southeast Asia




About the Seminar

This presentation examines the impact of China’s economic regionalism on sites of intensified resource extraction in the Mekong borderlands. In particular, a Chinese-driven banana boom and the penetration of overland Chinese entrepreneurs have turned farmland along the Mekong River on the Thai-Laos borders into banana production factories and export processing zones over the past decade. It is argued that the Chinese banana industry’s practice of ‘shifting plantations’ has transformed the Mekong borderlands into agricultural frontiers that allow for specific and intensive regimes of resource extraction.

The Mekong Region, especially Laos, has been identified as an ideal place for land acquisitions by Chinese banana-producing investors. In all banana plantations, vast quantities of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are required to maintain monoculture production. This process poses serious health risks to workers and the surrounding environment. After 6 to 10 years of producing fruit on cleared farmland, the company usually abandons it for another plot once factors such as soil depletion and pest infestation begin to lower yields. Since 2016, the government of Laos has issued a ban on new banana plantations. The shifting plantation practices, however, have spread to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, wreaking health and environment havoc along its path.

The case of Chinese banana plantations in Laos is a striking example of some of the challenges posed by Beijing’s economic influence in Southeast Asia.

About the Speaker

Yos Santasombat is Professor of Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, and Senior Research Scholar, Thailand Research Fund. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the author of numerous books, including Lak Chang: A Reconstruction of Tai Identity in Daikong (Canberra: Pandanus Books, ANU, 2001), Biodiversity, Local Knowledge and Sustainable Development (Chiang Mai: RSCD, 2003, 2014), Flexible Peasants: Reconceptualising the Third World’s Rural Types (Chiang Mai: RCSD, 2008), The River of Life: Changing Ecosystems of the Mekong Region (Chiang Mai: Mekong Press, 2011), as well as the edited volumes Impact of China’s Rise on the Mekong Region (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia: Cultures and Practices (Springer, 2017).

For registration, please fill in this form and email to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by 12 October 2017.



Seminar: The Thai Military’s Civil Affairs Projects: From Counter-Insurgency to Counter-Democracy



About the Seminar

Unlike the Indonesian military’s role in the civilian affairs during the Guided Democracy and the New Order periods, the Thai military’s extensive involvement in various civilian affairs projects has attracted little attention from scholars. Within Thailand’s armed forces, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was the main agency charged with carrying out a wide range of civilian affairs projects during the counter-insurgency period. Its activities included rural development, creating mass organisations and mobilisation campaigns, and psychological operations.  However, the demise of communism did not see the winding up of ISOC or the end of its activities. Indeed, after the coup of May 2014 that toppled the elected government led by the Phuea Thai party, ISOC became more active and powerful in supporting the military government of General Prayut Chan-ocha and suppressing its political opponents. These activities have led human rights advocates to brand ISOC “a state within the state”.

The seminar presents the preliminary results of a study of the Thai military’s civilian affair activities. It argues that the power of Thai military lies not only in its use of forces but also in its socio-political and economic arms. These represent a potent tool with which conservative elites can undermine and control electoral democracy.  In this seminar, the speaker will focus on the current extensive duties and power of ISOC, on its origins, development, justification and legitimacy.

About the Speaker

Puangthong Pawakapan is Associate Professor at Department of International Relations, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. She is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Her first fellowship at ISEAS was between July 2014 and January 2015, when she worked on “The Foreign Press’ Changing Perceptions of Thailand’s Monarchy.” Trends in Southeast Asia. (ISEAS, 2015). Between August 2010 and June 2011, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, when she worked on the publication State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear, (ISEAS, 2013). Between May 1998 and May 1999, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University, where she wrote “Thailand’s Response to the Cambodian Genocide”, in Sue Cook (ed.), Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives, (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 2006). Her principal interests are in Thailand’s relationship with its neighbours and contemporary political conflict.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by 30 June 2017.


Seminar: Is Thailand Ripe for Liberalism?




About the Seminar

The conventional wisdom holds that “the influence of classical political liberalism is extraordinarily limited” in Southeast Asia (Rodan & Hughes 2014) – and Thailand is no exception. Yet liberalism’s sorry fate in Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular has largely been taken for granted by scholars, with few puzzling over its causes or questioning its veracity. An intellectual history of liberalism has therefore yet to be written for Southeast Asia (unlike, say, for South and East Asia). Aiming to add one small piece to the larger regional jigsaw, this talk seeks to answer some basic questions about liberalism in Thailand. Does Thailand have a liberal tradition? To what extent have Western liberal thinkers captured the imagination of Thai intellectuals? Is Thailand now ripe for liberalism? It argues that the history of political thought in Thailand does not contain a well defined liberal “stream” (krasae); that Rousseau is the only Western liberal thinker who has “made it” in Thailand; and that the current political context – defined by intense political polarization, intractable conflict, conservative overreach, and the end of the reign of King Bhumibol – has stimulated some Thai intellectuals to begin laying the ideological groundwork for a (more) liberal future for the Thai nation.

About the Speaker

Tomas Larsson is Visiting Fellow at the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include Southeast Asian and especially Thai politics, political economy, and Buddhism and politics. He earned his PhD in Government from Cornell University in 2007, and he won the 2008 American Political Science Association’s Walter Dean Burnham award for best dissertation in Politics and History. He is the author of Land and loyalty: Security of the development of property rights in Thailand (Cornell University Press 2012). His recent articles have appeared in The Journal of Peasant Studies, Asian Journal of Law and Society, Modern Asian Studies, and Asian Politics & Policy. At Cambridge, he teaches courses on democracy and dictatorship in Southeast Asia, comparative politics of religion, and case study research methods. He has followed Thai politics in different capacities for 30 years: as an undergraduate studying Thai at Lund University; as a journalist based in Thailand from 1990 to 2000; and since then as a scholar.


To register, please fill in this form and email it to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by the morning of 2 March 2017.


Seminar: A 500 Years ‘Cosmic Ritual’: The Cremation of a Royal Corpse in Thailand



About the Seminar

After a Siamese king has died, and when his successor wants to honour him, the corpse will be embalmed and it may take more than a year before the remains will be cremated. A lengthy duration of time is needed to prepare for his festive “send off” from the world which includes a seven-day ritual involving thousands of participants, fireworks and popular entertainment, and the erection of a tall building representing the Buddhist cosmic mountain of Meru. The cremation will eventually take place in this recreation of Meru.

On the day of the cremation, an urn with the royal remains is placed on top of a massive four-wheeled catafalque and it will be transported slowly towards the Meru. Up till recently, the catafalque was preceded by more than seventy drays with depictions of mythological animals that lived at the foothills of Meru. Coins were scattered in the crowd and thousands of Buddhist monks received alms. Six such rituals are described in detail in the Royal Annals, and the height of the Meru––the tallest reaching a dizzying 120 metres––is mentioned in these accounts.

Various European accounts will also be referred to, the earliest dating from the mid-sixteenth century. Special attention will be given to a recently discovered scroll in the Dresden State Art Collections, which depicts the cremation of King Phetracha on 26 December 1704. It shows key elements of the ritual and adds to our knowledge of this extraordinary ceremony that involves a complex chain of events.

This talk will prepare us to what we may expect later in the year in Bangkok where the more than 500 year tradition is expected to be adhered to.


About the Speaker

Barend Jan Terwiel, born 1941, was educated in Utrecht and Canberra. He did fieldwork in Mainland Southeast Asia and Northeast India. He held senior positions in universities in Australia, Germany and The Netherlands. In 2006 he retired from the Chair of Thai and Lao Languages and Literatures in Hamburg University. He has written extensively on Thai history, on Buddhism, and on the Tai peoples. Best known are his books The Ram Khamhaeng Inscription: the Fake that didn’t come true (2010), Thailand’s Political History from the 13th century to recent times (2011), and Monks and Magic (2012).  Most of his journal articles can be accessed on academia.edu.


To register, please fill in this form and email it to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by 20 March 2017.


Seminar: Thailand’s Constitutional Referendum Results: Political Meanings and Implications



About the Seminar

On 7 August 2016 Thais will vote on the draft of their country’s 20th constitution. In the run-up to the referendum, the junta imposed suppressive measures to silence dissidents. Public debates and seminars on the referendum were banned while campaigning against the draft charter was strictly prohibited. Campaigners were arrested and detained. The constitution was drafted by a junta-appointed committee and aims to entrench the power of the military and unelected elites at the expense of political parties and the electoral majority. While major political parties, academics and civic groups disapproved of the draft, many ordinary Thais harbour a deep distrust of elected politicians and therefore supported the ruling junta and its constitutional design. The referendum result does not only decide the fate of the new constitution but is also a critical test of the junta’s legitimacy and popularity after two years in power. This presentation will offer detailed analysis of the referendum outcome and explain its political impact as well as the po litical direction of post referendum Thailand.

About the Speaker
Prajak Kongkirati is currently a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, Thailand. He is also a former Head of Southeast Asian Studies Centre, East Asian Institute, Thammasat University. He has published widely in the field of Thai politics, conflict and violence, party and electoral politics, and democratisation.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by morning of 15 August 2016.


Seminar: “Bamboo Swirling in the Wind”: Thailand’s Foreign Policy in the Regional Power Competition




Thailand is an interesting case of a medium-sized state attempting to maintain a balancing strategy in its relations with great powers in the region. The historical legacy of Thailand’s interaction with external powers has shaped a diplomatic culture that values flexibility and pragmatism. Dubbed “bamboo bending with the wind”, this strategy suggests policies that are solidly rooted but flexible enough to bend with the wind in order to survive. However, recent developments in the regional power competition, especially between the US and China, as well as Thai domestic politics have cast doubt over its ability to maintain this balancing strategy. The military’s intervention in Thai politics over the past decade has added to this doubt. As with other mainland Southeast Asian states, except Vietnam, Thailand seems to have been gradually lured into Beijing’s orbit.
This seminar will look at the factors that are challenging Thailand’s flexible diplomacy. Although Thailand manages to maintain close ties with both Washington and Beijing, its balancing act is more an ad hoc than a well-crafted strategy. Therefore, Thailand’s diplomacy at this stage is better described as “swirling in the wind”. This metaphor suggests policies that are sensitive to surrounding pressures and tend to change abruptly. The seminar will also offer empirical cases from the Thaksin administration onwards to demonstrate the impact that domestic politics and China have had on Thailand’s relations with the US.



Pongphisoot (Paul) Busbarat is currently a Dorothy Postdoctoral Scholar in Southeast Asian Studies at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. His current research is on images/identities in Thailand’s relations with China and the US. Paul’s research interests include ideational approaches to international relations, regionalism in Southeast Asia, and Thai politics and foreign affairs.

Prior to Columbia, Paul was a research affiliate at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC), University of Sydney. He was also a researcher at the Australian National University working on the role of norm entrepreneurs in anti-nuclear politics. Paul holds a PhD in Political Science & International Relations from the ANU, and postgraduate degrees in development studies and international affairs from Cambridge University and Columbia University. Previously, Paul worked as a policy analyst at Thailand’s Office of the National Security Council.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to iseasevents2@iseas.edu.sg by 4 March 2016.