Bilahari Kausikan discusses the Art of ASEAN diplomacy

Bilahari Kausikan (Arts & Social Sciences ’76) discussed the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) historical and current role at his third instalment of the Practice of Foreign Policy Lecture Series at NUS on 13 March 2019.

Founding Purpose – What was Left Unsaid
ASEAN, according to Kausikan, was very much a product of the Cold War. Although the Bangkok Declaration, ASEAN’s founding document, emphasised economic cooperation, “for ASEAN’s first quarter-century, almost nothing was done to advance economic cooperation.” ASEAN’s true purpose at the time was to function as a bulwark against growing communist influence in the region, particularly after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 with Soviet Union’s support.

“There were more immediate political and security concerns, and irrespective of what the Bangkok Declaration said, these political and security concerns were ASEAN’s real concerns. Whatever our other differences, all the five founding members were anti-communist or non-communist,” he said. “The realisation was that if we did not hang together, we would hang separately.”

Despite ASEAN’s newfound unity and common purpose, it was still out of its weight class when it came to the Cambodian conflict. The Vietnam-Cambodia war was a “Sino-Soviet proxy war, and it was never in ASEAN’s power to resolve. This was a big boys’ game,” stated Kausikan. “ASEAN’s role was to rally international support to prevent a Soviet-backed Vietnamese fait accompli. And this was a limited, but not inconsequential role which we performed very successfully.”

Bilahari Kausikan (right) responding to questions with Asst Prof Deepak Nair (left) from the Department of Political Science.

 

Bilahari Kausikan sharing his insights on ASEAN with the audience.

Post-Cold War: Still Limited but Vital
With the end of the Cold War following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ASEAN found itself in need of a new purpose. What was ASEAN to do now that communism was no longer a threat?

“The answer to that,” Kausikan said, “was to try and do what we had always said was our purpose: economic cooperation.” In 1992, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) was set up and the first phase of economic integration was “completed as scheduled by the end of 2015.” That economic integration however, did not come easy, particularly because “it was difficult to muster the will to take the political decisions that economic cooperation required without the existential challenges of the Cold War as a spur.”

Consensus and Non-Interference: Stability, Even at the Cost of Efficiency
Much of this was due to ASEAN’s “most fundamental consideration”, which is “to preserve the organisation, even if it means inaction or consensus only of form.” This meant that unless all member states agreed, ASEAN would choose the safe option and take no action. In a region with such vast differences in government styles and culture coupled with wildly diverging national interests, achieving unanimous consensus can be complicated and difficult even in the best of times.

While Kausikan admitted that consensus-based decision making often produced “sub-optimal outcomes,” he was adamant that “despite their obvious limitations, consensus and non-interference cannot be abandoned as ASEAN’s core operating principles.” Maintaining consensus amongst all ASEAN members remains paramount because “all the differences that have made regionalism so necessary and so hard to achieve have not disappeared, and will never disappear. They therefore have to be managed, if the peace is to be kept.” Using any other mode of decision-making “risks even small differences escalating into serious conflicts.”

ASEAN and the South China Sea Disputes
With four ASEAN member states currently locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, questions from the audience naturally gravitated the position ASEAN ought to take. When asked, Kausikan dismissed the idea of ASEAN playing a larger role in collectively engaging China on territorial disputes.

“We (ASEAN) discuss the South China Sea collectively with China, but we can only do that on issues that are actually secondary or tangential to the core issue, which are the competing claims,” he stated. “Territorial disputes can by definition only be settled by the parties to the dispute,” which are primarily bilateral.

In fact, Mr Kausikan contends that “it is beyond ASEAN’s capabilities to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea” since it has become “something of a proxy for the contest between the American and Chinese ideas of regionalism.”

“As with the Cambodian issue in the 1980’s, this is a big boys’ game.”

The best thing ASEAN can do now regarding the South China Sea according to him, is to “make our red lines clear to both sides” and once again play a limited, but vital role in keeping the peace in the region.

Most importantly, he added, “there are things that ASEAN can do very well and we do them, there are things we can only do sub-optimally, and there are things that are simply beyond our powers. And the art of ASEAN diplomacy is to know which is which.”

Watch the lecture here.

The third instalment in the series, Bilahari Kausikan addressing a full house on ASEAN.

—-

About the Speaker
Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs
This five part lecture series is organised by the NUS Political Science Society with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Department of Political Science. Established in 1929, FASS, one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

Cooperation key to good relations – Kausikan

On 20 February 2019, Mr Bilahari Kausikan (Arts and Social Sciences ’76) presented the complex and sometimes tense bilateral relations Singapore has with Malaysia and Indonesia, while concisely describing the importance of understanding Singapore’s rather different relationship with each.

Kausikan was candid when describing Singapore’s sovereignty, “The governments of our neighbours deal with Singapore as a sovereign nation because we have developed capabilities,” he said.

Bilateral Relations with Malaysia

Given recent public discussions over the deferment of the Singapore-KL high-speed rail, the Instrument Landing System (ILS) over Seletar Airport and the extension of Malaysia’s port limits into Singapore waters, it was no surprise that Singapore’s bilateral relations with Malaysia took centre stage during his lecture.

Mr Kausikan cautioned against assuming recent differing opinions were solely due to the surprise election of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in Malaysia and the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister of Malaysia.

“We should not place too much emphasis for the current situation on PM Mahathir,” he said. “These are not new issues; they are very old issues … this is the fourth iteration.”

Mr Kausikan was optimistic the next generation of Singapore’s leadership is capable. In particular, he singled out Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat, former Principal Personal Secretary to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing’s tenure as Chief of the Army. Their vast experiences can inform Singapore’s future foreign policies.

Mr Kausikan speaking to the audience about Singapore and Malaysia-Indonesia relations.
Mr. Kausikan responding to questions with Deputy Head of Department of Political Science Assoc Prof Terence Lee.

Bilateral Relations with Indonesia

Mr Kausikan emphasized that while Singapore’s relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are similar, there are some differences.

He highlighted Indonesia under President Joko Widodo’s administration is “much more interested in domestic issues (like) alleviating poverty and doing things for his own people, (concerning himself) with foreign policy only to the degree that it contributes to that.”

Since 2014, Singapore has been Indonesia’s largest foreign investor with US$8.4 billion in realised investments in 2017 alone. Cordial bilateral relations advance Indonesia’s domestic goals while allowing Singapore access to the largest economy in ASEAN. Both are among each other’s top trading partners and source of visitor arrivals.

Importance of Regional Cooperation

He emphasized putting aside differences and cooperating whenever possible throughout the discussion. When asked about the threat of cross-border terrorism by a member of the audience, he replied the security departments of the three countries collaborated closely to ensure safety. This was a good example of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia working together towards a common goal.

“The Malaysian Special Branch, the equivalent of our ISD, is extremely professional and cooperates closely with our security authorities” he said.

Later, he recounted a 2016 incident when Indonesian authorities arrested a group of militants planning to launch rockets towards Singapore from Batam, as an example of Indonesia-Singapore addressing cross-border terrorism.

Mr Kausikan stressed that Singapore “can cooperate with our neighbours, should cooperate, and in fact must cooperate” while safeguarding and advancing national interests.

Watch the lecture here.

—-

About the Speaker
Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs
This five part lecture series is organised by the NUS Political Science Society with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Department of Political Science. Established in 1929, FASS, one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

NUS Philosophy alum wins big at 71st Locarno International Film Festival

We are pleased to report that filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua, an alumnus from the Department of Philosophy, has won the Golden Leopard for his film A Land Imagined at the 71st Locarno International Film Festival back in August 2018.

Mr Yeo is the first Singaporean to win the coveted top prize in this European film festival. According to a local pundit, “Winning at Locarno is a massive achievement for the avant-garde auteur. The first edition was held in 1946, making it the first international film festival to take place after World War II.”

The film follows a lonely construction worker from China who goes missing in Singapore after forming a virtual friendship with a mysterious online gamer and a police investigator who uncovers much more than he bargained for in order to find him.

A Land Imagined is released in Singapore theatres from 21 February 2019.

Bilahari Kausikan shares foreign policy insights in first of public lecture series

On 30 Jan 2019, Bilahari Kausikan (Arts & Social Sciences ’76) spoke on the practice of foreign policy at NUS. He situated the fundamental role of national interests in foreign policy and explained why Singapore’s national interests are not better and more widely understood. He examined common errors in thinking about foreign policy, as well as the creation and maintenance of relevance for a small city-state like Singapore.

The inaugural lecture was presided by NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, Senior Deputy President and Provost Ho Teck Hua and FASS Dean Professor Robbie Goh.

Watch the lecture here.

 

Mr. Kausikan sharing foreign policy insights with the audience.
Mr. Kausikan responding to questions with Head of Department of Political Science Assoc Prof Soo Yeon Kim.
NUS President Prof Tan Eng Chye presenting a token of appreciation to Mr. Kausikan.

——————————————————————————-

In conjunction with the Faculty of Arts and Social Science’s 90th anniversary, the Department of Political Science is hosting Kausikan’s lectures on the Practice of Foreign Affairs. Full information, topics and dates available here.

Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Established in 1929, the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

Joint Book Launch – Citizens in Motion: Emigration, Immigration, and Re-migration Across China’s Borders & Marrying for a Future: Transnational Sri Lankan Tamil Marriages in the Shadow of War

A joint book launch celebrating the release of Citizens in Motion: Emigration, Immigration, and Re-migration Across China’s Borders by Associate Professor Elaine Ho (NUS Department of Geography and FASS Research Division) and Marrying for a Future: Transnational Sri Lankan Tamil Marriages in the Shadow of War by Assistant Professor Sidharthan Maunaguru (NUS Department of South Asian Studies and NUS Department of Sociology) will be held at the Pod, NLB on Tuesday, 7th May 2019.
 
In Citizens in Motion, A/P Ho examines the migration patterns and multifaceted national affiliations of both elaine hoChinese migrants overseas and foreign migrants in China. Through interviews and ethnographic observations conducted in China, Canada, Singapore, and the China-Myanmar border, A/P Ho captures the rich diversity of contemporary Chinese migration processes. By bringing together these various experiences and national contexts, A/P Ho offers an insightful analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing nation-building and cultural diversity management mediated by the influences of migration processes.
marrying for a futureAsst Prof Maunaguru focuses on Sri Lanka in Marrying for a Future, where he argues that the social institution of marriage sidharthan maunaguruserves as a critical means of reuniting dispersed segments of Tamil communities who fled Sri Lanka during the almost 26 year civil war. This is because key agents and elements of marriage such as marriage brokers and transit places help foster connections between these fragmented communities. Importantly, the book offers an interesting take on migration issues by situating transnational marriage within the larger scholarship of forced displacement and refugees.
 
Together, A/P Ho and Asst Prof Maunaguru contribute unique approaches to studying migration and opens up possibilities for future scholarship to build on these alternative perspectives. If you are interested to hear more from the authors themselves, please RSVP to reserve your seat. The event details are as follows:
Date: Tuesday, 7th May 2019
 
Time: 6.00–8.30pm
Venue: The Pod, National Library Building
 
Organizers: Singapore Research Nexus and FASS Migration Cluster, FASS Research Division
 
Click here for additional details.
 

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs: Bilahari Kausikan on Singapore Foreign Policy

Click to enlarge.

In conjunction with FASS’ 90th anniversary, the Department of Political Science is organising a public lecture series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs. The guest lecturer is former Ambassador and currently Chairman of the Middle East Institute, Mr Bilahari Kausikan.

Date: 30 Jan, 20 Feb, 13 Mar, 20 Mar & 3 Apr
Time: 6pm – 8pm
Venue: FASS LT11 (Click for map)

Sign up for the lecture via the following links:
https://tinyurl.com/polsci-sfp-nusmembers (NUS members)
https://tinyurl.com/polsci-sfp-public (Public members)

The synopses for the lectures are as follows:

Lecture One: How to Think about Foreign Policy?
30 January 2019
The first lecture situates the fundamental role of national interests in foreign policy. Why are Singapore’s national interests not better and more widely understood? The talk examines some common errors in thinking about foreign policy, as well as the creation and maintenance of relevance for a small city-state, and why small countries should not behave like small countries.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Two: Origins I – Relations with Malaysia and Indonesia
20 February 2019
The second lecture conveys the inevitable complexity of relations with Singapore’s neighbours. It provides an overview of the systemic origins of bilateral tensions with our neighbours, focusing on the uses and abuses of history, and the roles of ‘baggage’ and personality. The talk ends with thoughts on how Singapore could manage complexity and cope with competing nationalisms with our neighbours.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Three: Origins II – ASEAN: Vital but Limited
13 March 2019
 The third lecture discusses the origins of regionalism in Southeast Asia. It explains the necessity but also the limits of ASEAN. The talk will suggest that ‘it is pointless to criticise a cow for being an imperfect horse’.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Four: The New Global and Regional Strategic Context
20 March 2019
The fourth lecture looks at the key factors driving change in the global and regional order. Issues to be explored include: the nature of US-China relations, coping with competing influences, the roles of Japan, India, Australia, Russia and the EU. The talk also offers thoughts as to why the future of East Asia will be multi-polar.

Lecture Five: Future Challenges
3 April 2019
The final lecture in the series examines the interaction of foreign policy and domestic politics. It offers thoughts on how to manage uncertainty and emerging systemic vulnerabilities in Singapore.

Professor Ted Hopf’s work wins the 2018 Albie award

Congratulations to Prof Ted Hopf from the Department of Political Science on winning the Albie award from the Washington Post for his journal article, jointly written with Bentley B. Allan and Srdjan Vucetic, entitled “The Distribution of Identity and the Future of International Order: China’s Hegemonic Prospects.”

The Albie award recognises the best work on political economy in 2018. Named after the late, great political economist Albert O. Hirschman, the winning works are curated by Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor at The Washington Post. According to Prof Drezner, “The important thing about an Albie-winning piece of work is that it forces the reader to think about the past, present or future politics of the global economy in a way that can’t be un-thought.”

Here’s what Prof Drezner said about the article:

“There has been so much written about the liberal international order this past year. Its critics are piling on, and even its most enthusiastic cheerleaders have doubts. This article, however, suggests that the current hegemonic order is likely to be far more resilient than the pessimists believe. This is because the core ideas animating the current order — democracy and free markets — have far more popular support across the globe than elites tend to assume. Any Chinese effort to challenge or supplant the current order is therefore unlikely to gain many adherents.”

On winning the award, Prof Hopf said, “It is always most gratifying when one’s academic work becomes part of the broader policy debate, especially when it concerns an issue of such contemporary significance as the rise of China.”

Click here to see the other Albie award winners.