Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

Is ASEAN ready to stand up to China in the South China Sea?

Navy personnel of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Lee YingHui, RSIS

As the pandemic dominates international media headlines, tension in the South China Sea has slowly intensified in the background. Recent incidents include the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel after being hit by the Chinese Coast Guard near the disputed Paracel Islands and the dispatching of Chinese seismic survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 into Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing’s also taken steps to institutionalise control over disputed waters, announcing in April the establishment of two administrative districts under the authority of Sansha city. Read more…

Standing up for ASEAN in the South China Sea

Warships and fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: China Stringer Network via Reuters).

Author: Collin Koh, RSIS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that the United States considers Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal. This is a fundamentally new stance. While scholars and pundits are trying to make sense of what the statement means for the dispute, more interesting is how ASEAN will respond as it is inevitably caught in the eye of the South China Sea storm.

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A collective ASEAN response to COVID-19

An official wearing a face mask looks on as Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attends a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Hsien-Li Tan, NUS

When COVID-19 cases first appeared in the ASEAN region early in 2020, there were fears that public health systems would be overwhelmed. Responses around the region have varied. After decisive action — and missteps — in the initial months, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are now cautiously relaxing restrictions while working to avert a second wave. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to see significantly higher infection and death rates, leading to strong criticism against the Jokowi and Duterte administrations.

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Coping with COVID-19 the ASEAN way

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi, Vietnam, 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Authors: Haridas Ramasamy and Wendy He, RSIS

COVID-19 has called into question the practice of regionalism in Southeast Asia. The seemingly slow and reactive responses by ASEAN member states when the virus first hit Thailand on 13 January have led many to wonder if this regional multilateral organisation is up to the task of dealing with the pandemic. How should we assess ASEAN’s response to the global health crisis? Read more…

Navigating ASEAN’s post-COVID-19 energy transition

An employee of PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) cleans the surface of solar panels at a solar power generation plant in Gili Meno island, in this 9 December 2014 photo taken by Antara Foto (Reuters/Antara Foto/Widodo S. Jusuf.).

Author: Han Phoumin, ERIA

Daily global carbon emissions dropped by 17 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with 2019 levels. While this is positive in mitigating climate change, the drop is due to the COVID-19 and measures to stop it spread such as nationwide lockdowns and travel restrictions. The COVID-19 induced economic downturn is contracting global energy demand and energy-related emissions. But this crisis is temporary — both energy demand and carbon emissions will bounce back once the global economy starts to recover. Read more…

Establishing humanitarian lanes during COVID-19

Essential workers have their noses swabbed before returning to the workforce at a regional screening center amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore 9 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su).

Authors: Alistair DB Cook and Christopher Chen, RSIS

COVID-19 is severely impacting the humanitarian system. It has forced countries to focus on containing the pandemic with national lockdown measures — hindering humanitarian action and denying aid to many affected communities in the Asia Pacific. But countries in the region have begun negotiations to normalise international travel, with Australia and New Zealand being the first to initiate bilateral discussions over the establishment of a ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’ and a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to the Pacific during the pandemic. Read more…

Gauging Indonesia’s interests in the South China Sea

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base at Natuna, Indonesia, near the South China Sea, 9 January 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Antara Foto).

Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah, University of Indonesia

In June, four years after the Hague’s 2016 South China Sea tribunal ruling, Indonesia put forward a formal diplomatic note to the UN. This was in response to Malaysia’s 2019 continental shelf submission that objected to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the area bounded by China’s nine-dash line. It said that ‘Indonesia is not bound by any claims made in contravention to international law’.

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Vietnam leads ASEAN through COVID-19

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April 2020 (Manan Vatsyayana/Pool via Reuters).

Author: Bich T Tran, University of Antwerp

COVID-19 is posing serious challenges to ASEAN in 2020. But Vietnam, as ASEAN chair, is trying to make the best of the situation and demonstrate leadership. As 2020 marks a mid-term review of the implementation of the ASEAN Community Building Blueprints 2015–25, Vietnam chose ‘Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN’ as the theme for its chairmanship. Read more…

Is ASEAN’s COVID-19 response leaving migrant workers behind?

Firefighters spray disinfectant on a street during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 31 March, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Teng).

Author: M Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya

Many ASEAN nations saw a sharp decline in the number of coronavirus fatalities after more than a month in lockdown. New infections in Thailand dropped to single-digit figures and Vietnam has already reopened its economy. The Philippines and Malaysia have conditionally permitted most sectors to resume business.

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Leveraging ASEAN to respond to COVID-19

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses a special video conference on COVID-19 with leaders of ASEAN countries, 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Frederick Kliem, RSIS

COVID-19 is testing international resolve to cooperate. Both China and the United States have so far failed to provide the necessary global leadership. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) play — at best — the role of supporting actors. Even the European Union and ASEAN are struggling with outbreaks of nationalism and unilateral knee-jerk reactions.

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Thai domestic politics threatens to derail its diplomacy

Soldiers march during the annual Military Parade to celebrate the Coronation of King Rama X at the Royal Thai Army Cavalry Center in Saraburi province, Thailand 18 January, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Tun).

Author: Greg Raymond, ANU

Thailand has been a treaty ally of the United States since 1954, but its political direction since 2006 — amid warming strategic ties with Beijing — is placing serious pressure on the alliance.

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The COVID-19 pandemic pulls at the seams of Southeast Asia

A worker cleans a plastic barrier after customers had lunch at the Penguin Eat Shabu hotpot restaurant that reopened after the easing of restrictions with the implementation of a plastic barrier and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok, Thailand, 8 May, 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be yet to come for many Southeast Asian countries, though some, such as Vietnam, have seen relative success in containing the virus. Read more…

PPE and free trade to better tackle COVID-19 in ASEAN

Suparvadee Tantrarattanapong, (L), an ICU nurse who volunteers to work with COVID-19 patients removes her personal protection equipment (PPE) after transferring a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, 22 April, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Perawongmetha).

Author: Sithanonxay Suvannaphakdy, ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute

The Special ASEAN Summit on 14 April emphasised the need for a collective response from ASEAN to COVID-19 that involves keeping the regional bloc’s markets open to trade. As ASEAN member states deploy all possible instruments to combat the pandemic, trade can serve as a powerful, low-cost tool to improve access to personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by healthcare workers. Read more…

ASEAN, 5G and the great tech game

A woman using her mobile phone walks past a vehicle covered in a China Unicom 5G advertisement in Beijing, China 17 September, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Amalina Anuar, RSIS

For many economies, 5G innovation promises an opportunity to scale the economic ladder in a technological arena that will undergird the connectivity-based and data-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). But for major powers, 5G innovation is an emerging battlefield for technological, economic and military domination. For all its economic promise, this next-generation technology has the potential to be a nightmare in the making for ASEAN — an organisation that lists choosing sides between major powers as one of its most prominent concerns.

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Saving Southeast Asia from another economic crisis

A view of almost empty main road amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, 31 March 2020 (Photo: REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan).

Author: Andrea Goldstein, OECD and Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA

The apparent success of China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan in de-escalating the COVID-19 crisis contrasts with experiences in Europe and the United States where casualties have grown rapidly. Among various explanations, one is cultural: compared to the West, collective interest trumps individualism in the East. Read more…