Rethinking Southeast Asian International Relations: New Theories and Methodologies
Time & LocationSession 3
Wed 13:30–15:00 Room 1.101
- Deepak Nair National University of Singapore
- Don Emmerson Stanford University
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- ASEAN’s Peculiar Regional Order Mathew Davies Australian National University
This paper advances a new account of ASEAN’s peculiar regional order. Instead of emphasising power or shared norms, it emphasises the importance of an emerging symbolic and ritual framework through which political elites and government bureaucracies perform regional order. I argue that ASEAN’s order has two defining characteristics. First it is subjunctive rather than intersubjective – that is it operates ‘as if’ it were real rather than actually being true. Second it is orthopraxic rather than orthodoxic, concerned with policing behaviour within ASEAN not shared belief beyond ASEAN. This account of order provides new insight into both ASEAN’s endurance and the simultaneous endurance of member state practice that consistently violates regional commitments.
- Domestic Politics, Historiography, and Southeast Asian International Politics Ja Ian Chong National University of Singapore
Much of the international relations literature on Southeast Asia focuses on state actors and emphasizes state policy. There is as well a proclivity to treat the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a single actor. Such perspectives give short shrift to Southeast Asia’s complexity as well as the myriad ways developments in the region cross political boundaries. The circulation of people, trade, and ideas historically characterize the region and its politics. Such dynamics often feature in the work of comparative political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists, but play a less prominent role in international relations scholarship—and the field is much poorer for it. My paper proposes to highlight ways in which the study of international politics in Southeast Asia can incorporate domestic politics and the use of the growing historiography on the region. I make the case that taking on board domestic political contestation can allow for a more accurate and precise understanding of Southeast Asian international politics. Consequently, I look at how an account that includes Southeast Asian domestic politics and recent Cold War history explains the development of ASEAN cooperation from its origins in 1967 through the 1990s and its decline thereafter in comparison to existing approaches.
- Duterte, Sukarno, and Sihanouk: Southeast Asia’s Anti-Colonial Populisms in Comparative Historical Perspective Deepak Nair National University of Singapore
I aim to do two things in this paper. First, I clear the conceptual ground for studying anti-colonial populism in the post-independence foreign policies of states in the Global South. I delineate anti-colonial populism as organized around a critique of unfinished decolonization that shapes both the domestic social coalition of anti-colonial leaders and also their international (re)alignments. Making intra-regional and longitudinal comparisons, I proceed to historically flesh out an anti-colonial populist foreign policy as a type by focusing on three charismatic and authoritarian anti-colonial populists from Southeast Asia spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. These include Sukarno, who led Indonesia through its National Revolution and presided over the Republic’s slide towards civilian authoritarianism and international Confrontations against two European colonial powers (Dutch, British); Prince Norodom Sihanouk, a French backed royal who cultivated a mass movement to undercut republican and revolutionary challengers and strategically invoked anti-colonialism in his campaign for Cambodia’s independence and neutrality during the Cold War; and Rodrigo Duterte whose initial social coalition was cemented by “penal populism” towards drug dealers inside and anti-Americanism outside. A second aim is to situate the Philippines’ contemporary realignments in the longer historical arc of other small powers in Southeast Asia that grappled with making alignments choices in the context of Cold War rivalry, namely Sukarno’s Indonesia and Sihanouk’s Cambodia. I will ask what these ultimately tragic efforts to respond to intensifying pressures of Great Power competition during the Cold War might suggest about the fate of dramatic international re-alignments of the Philippines under Duterte.
- The Inconsistent Power of Human Rights: How ASEAN States Resist Change Catherine Renshaw Australian Catholic University
In theory, the regional-level institutionalization of human rights in Southeast Asia had the potential to significantly advance the realisation of human rights within ASEAN states. One possibility, for example, was that regional human rights commitments would introduce a new factor into the cost / benefit calculation of states’ decisions around domestic human rights: states might be less willing to violate regionally-endorsed human rights norms because of the social sanctions they would incur from regional neighbours. Another possibility was that compliance with regionally-endorsed human rights norms would come to reflect the appropriate pattern of behaviour within the community of Southeast Asian states: states would come to follow a logic of appropriateness that included the domestic promotion and protection of human rights. A third possibility was that discourse connected to the creation and implementation of regional human rights institutions would encourage a process of social learning and deliberation around human rights compliance: states would eventually reorient their interests towards human rights through interaction and mutual learning. Yet in more than a decade since the signing of the ASEAN Charter, there has been little evidence of any of these processes. In this context, my paper reflects on the limitations of traditional theoretical frameworks in explaining the (in)effectiveness of ASEAN’s human rights institutions as mechanisms of domestic political change. It argues for a form of analytical eclecticism to account for factors such as (1) the rise of China and its increasing hard and soft power influence in Southeast Asia, together with the concurrent diminution of the moral authority of the United States and Europe; (3) internal factors such as the absence of participatory politics – genuine democracy – within most ASEAN states. The paper examines in comparative detail the transnational and local causal mechanisms at play in two key human rights issues – ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s minority Muslim population, the Rohingya, in 2017; and the announcement in 2019 by the Sultan of Brunei that death by stoning would be introduced for certain breaches of Sharia law. The article explains how and why ASEAN and its human rights institutions failed to constrain (in the former case) and constrained to an extent (in the latter case) the behaviour of the respective governments.
Southeast Asia is at the crossroads of a range of contemporary dynamics re-shaping international politics: from US-China great-power shifts and ASEAN's tortured diplomacy to respond to the South China Sea disputes to changes in state-society relations involving democratic transitions (Burma) and populist authoritarian rollbacks (Philippines). The scholarship on Southeast Asian International Relations (IR) has not kept pace with the region, however. The dominance of theories like realism and constructivism in framing the post-Cold War research programme on Southeast Asian IR has limited the questions, subjects, and relations pursued in this field. This panel features four contributors who draw on sociology, history, anthropology, and critical political economy to open up the study of Southeast Asian IR along new theoretical and methodological registers. Besides outlining the pay-offs of these new approaches to Southeast Asian IR, the panel has three broader theoretical aims. One, to suggest new modes of studying power in IR (beyond materialism and idealism). Two, to think about new ways of anchoring international politics to state-society relations and domestic politics. And three, to ask whether the study of core traditional concerns in IR – balancing, identity, norms, etc. – can be reinvigorated using these new approaches.