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ASEAN Forum 2016

China in ASEAN

Co-hosted with the China Studies Centre, ASEAN Forum 2016 explored the various convergences of China and ASEAN, shedding light on how China is shaping political, economic and cultural aspects of life for those in ASEAN.

China is an emerging political superpower with a large population, rapid economic growth and increasing military spending. At the same time, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) is moving towards greater economic integration through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), hoping that integration will boost markets and attract increased investment to the region. While ASEAN’s integration is an ongoing process, the economic relationship between China and the AEC has been formalised through the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area agreement. At the same time, tensions have arisen between China and a number of Southeast Asian states due to competing claims for islands in the South China Sea. 

The ASEAN Forum 2016 invited speakers from across the region to provide assessments of how China is engaging in Southeast Asia, and what this means for the future of the region as a whole. It focused on three main themes that lie at the heart of the ASEAN-China relationship:


China’s regional geo-political interests are most visible in its contestation of islands in the South China Sea. Just as the motivations for claiming ownership of the area are multifaceted, including the desire to secure fishing reserves and energy resources, as well as military interests, the responses of various ASEAN countries have also been wide-ranging. This panel addressed the key concerns and implications of ongoing tensions between China and ASEAN countries in the South China Sea, reflecting on how it is affecting political, military and civil relations.

Economic diplomacy

In November 2015, China offered US$20 billion in loans to Southeast Asians countries assist with regional infrastructure development, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arguing that China’s economic rise is beneficial for its neighbours and the region as a whole. At the same time, private Chinese business interests are also having a deep impact on investment throughout ASEAN. This panel explored the benefits and challenges posed by increasing Chinese economic interests in China.

Chinese diasporas in Southeast Asia

The Chinese have a long history of trade with and migration to Southeast Asia. Many ASEAN countries have well-established Chinese diasporas that have, traditionally, been heavily involved in commerce. Although many of these Chinese have lived in Southeast Asian Countries for generations, the question of identity continues to arise: how ‘Chinese’ are they and how can ‘Chinese’ are they able to be? This panel reflected on the place of Chinese diasporas in ASEAN countries, discussing topics such as of ethnic identity, cultural assimilation and ties to mainland China.


Dr Alice Ba, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware

Few initiatives capture as many aspects of China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia as China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century”. With all its security, economic and political dimensions, China’s Belt and Road has the potential to redirect, reorganise, and reorder existing arrangements in varied ways. For Southeast Asian states, which offer key regional connecting points along the Belt and Road, the regional order implications of Chinese initiatives may be especially complicated. Not only does Southeast Asia sit at the intersection of US arrangements and emerging Chinese ones, but China’s Belt and Road initiatives also have implications for ASEAN and the ASEAN-centric arrangements that states have pursued since the ending of the Cold War. Still, much about China’s initiatives also remains unknown and uncertain. What kinds of challenges and opportunities might Southeast Asian states expect? What are its potential implications for existing regional configurations and arrangements, especially ASEAN? How might Belt and Road be harnessed in ways that serve identified regional objectives and interests? 

Alice D Ba is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. Her research considers the international relations of Southeast Asia with a special focus on Southeast Asia’s relations with China, as well as the United States, and their significance for regionalism in East Asia and the Asia Pacific. Her past and current work trace the interactive effects of changing power dynamics and shifting modes of diplomatic and political exchange in ASEAN and Southeast Asia’s relations with major powers and their role and impact on existing patterns of East Asian regional integration, including the institutional dimensions of a changing regional order. The author of (Re)Negotiating East and Southeast Asia: Region, Regionalism, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Stanford 2009), she serves on the editorial boards of the Australian Journal of International Affairs, Contemporary Southeast Asia, and the Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. She is also a research associate of the ASEAN Studies Center at American University in Washington, DC. She has also received US Fulbright awards for work in Beijing and Singapore. Professor Ba also served as Director of Asian Studies at UD from 2009-2014.

Chair: Professor Luigi Tomba (China Studies Centre)

Associate Professor Jing Dong Yuan, University of Sydney

Great-power rivalry and emerging maritime security issues in the South China Sea

Jingdong Yuan is Associate Professor at the Centre for International Security Studies and the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Professor Yuan specializes in Asia-Pacific security, Chinese defence and foreign policy, Sino-Indian relations, and global and regional arms control and non-proliferation issues. He has held visiting appointments at the National University of Singapore, the University of Macau, East-West Center, and the National Cheng-chi University. Between 1999 and 2010, he worked at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is co-author of A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions (2014), co-editor of Australia and China at 40 (2012), co-author, China and India: Cooperation or Conflict? (2003). His publications have appeared in a number of refereed journals and in many edited volumes, including, most recently, The Oxford Handbook of the International Relations of Asia (2014).

Dr Merriden Varrall, Lowy Institute for International Policy

How China’s world views are manifested in the South China Sea

Dr Merriden Varrall is Director, East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute. Before joining the Lowy Institute, Merriden was the Assistant Country Director and Senior Policy Advisor at UNDP China, where she worked for the past three years on China’s role in the world, focusing on its international development cooperation policy. Merriden has spent almost eight years living and working in China, including lecturing in foreign policy at the China Foreign Affairs University and conducting fieldwork for her doctoral research. Prior to that she worked for the Australian Treasury. Merriden has a PhD in political anthropology from Macquarie University, Sydney, and the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Her dissertation examined the ideational factors behind China's foreign policy. She has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from the Australian National University, and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

Professor Renato Cruz De Castro, De Le Salle University

China’s maritime expansion realpolitik approach in the South China Sea

Renato Cruz De Castro is a full professor in the International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, the Philippines, and holds the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies. He is an alumnus of the Daniel Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, United States. In 2009, Dr De Castro became the US State Department ASEAN Research Fellow from the Philippines and was based in the Political Science Department of Arizona State University. He earned his PhD from the Government and International Studies Department of the University of South Carolina as a Fulbright Scholar in 2001, and obtained his BA and two master’s degrees from the University of the Philippines. Professor De Castro has conducted several courses on International Relations and Security Studies in the National Defense College and Foreign Service Institute in the Philippines. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies. A consultant in the National Security Council of the Philippines during the Aquino Administration, Professor De Castro’s research interests include Philippine-US security relations, Philippine defence and foreign policies, US defence and foreign policies in East Asia, and the international politics of East Asia. He has written more than 80 articles on international relations and security that have been published in a number of scholarly journals and edited works in the Philippines, South Korea, Canada, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States.

Mr Aaron Connelly, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Between two reefs: Indonesia's relationship with China

Aaron L Connelly is a Research Fellow in the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, where he focuses on Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Myanmar, and the US role in the region. Prior to joining the Lowy Institute, Aaron worked at Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington. As a director at the firm, Aaron assisted companies and non-profits in understanding political risks to investments and operations in Southeast Asia. As special assistant to the chair of the firm, former US National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, Aaron collaborated closely with Mr Berger on foreign policy matters, conducting research for and representing him in a variety of outside initiatives, including those regarding the US’s role in East Asia. Previously, Aaron worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and as a Fulbright fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. He completed graduate work in security studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

Chair: Professor Michele Ford (Sydney Southeast Asia Centre)

Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, University of New South Wales

Environmental aspects of Chinese economic investment in ASEAN

Pichamon Yeophantong is Lecturer in International Relations and Development at the University of NSW. She leads the Environmental Justice and Human Rights in Asia Project at the Australian Human Rights Centre, and is also a Research Associate at Oxford University’s Global Economic Governance Programme. Previously, Pichamon was an ASEAN-Canada Senior Fellow at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, and a Global Leaders Fellow at Princeton University and University College, Oxford. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in China and Southeast Asia. Her work has appeared in such publications as Pacific Affairs, Chinese Journal of International Politics and Asian Survey. Pichamon holds a PhD from the Australian National University.

Dr Mike Fabinyi, University of Technology Sydney

Chinese trade and investments in ASEAN marine resources

Michael Fabinyi is a Society in Science – Branco Weiss Senior Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney. He obtained his PhD at the Australian National University in 2009, and before moving to Sydney he was based for six years at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. Michael’s research focuses on the political economy of fisheries in the Asia-Pacific, and he has worked in the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Michael has held visiting appointments at Peking University, Palawan State University and most recently at WorldFish, Malaysia.

Associate Professor James Reilly, University of Sydney

China’s economic statecraft in Myanmar: a steep learning curve

James Reilly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. He was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford (2008-09) and a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy (2015-16). He also served as the East Asia Representative of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in China from 2001-08. He is the author of Strong Society, Smart State: The Rise of Public Opinion in China’s Japan Policy (Columbia University Press, 2012), and the co-editor of Australia and China at 40 (UNSW Press, 2012).

Mr Chanborey Cheunboran, CISS Research

China in Cambodia

Chanborey Cheunboran is a PhD candidate in International Political and Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), the Australian National University. He is also a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, where areas of interests include Cambodia’s foreign policy and security studies in the Asia-Pacific. Prior to joining the SDSC, he was an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, and a part-time lecturer of International Relations at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He earned Master in Public Management from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, in conjunction with Harvard Kennedy School in 2014; a Master of Arts in Diplomacy from Rangsit University, Thailand in 2009, and a BA in International Relations from the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in 2005.

Chair: Professor Jeffrey Reigel (China Studies Centre)

Dr Jayde Roberts, University of Tasmania

The place of the Chinese in Myanmar

Jayde Lin Roberts is a spatial ethnographer and interdisciplinary scholar of the built environment who focuses on Myanmar, Chinese overseas and Asian urbanism. Her book, Mapping Chinese Rangoon: Place and Nation among the Sino-Burmese, was published by the University of Washington Press in June 2016. Trained at the University of Washington, she currently lectures in Asian Languages and Studies at the University of Tasmania and is a Fulbright US Scholar for 2016-17.

Dr Chang-Yau Hoon, Universiti Brueni Darussalam

Chinese Indonesians: identity and place in post-Suharto Indonesia

Chang-Yau Hoon is Associate Professor at the Institute of Asian Studies, University of Brunei Darussalam, and Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. Prior to this appointment, he was Sing Lun Fellow and Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at Singapore Management University. He was awarded the SMU Research Excellence Award in 2014 and the SMU Teaching Excellence Award in 2012. He is the author of Chinese Identity in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Culture, Media and Politics (2008, Sussex Academic Press), and the co-editor of Chinese Indonesians Reassessed: History, Religion and Belonging (Routledge, 2013), and Catalysts of Change: Ethnic Chinese Business in Asia (World Scientific, 2014).

Dr Hui Yew-Foong, ISEAS Singapore

Singaporean Chinese and relations with mainland China

Dr Hui Yew-Foong is currently based in Hong Kong as Associate Professor of Sociology at the Hong Kong Shue Yan University. At the same time, he is affiliated with the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute as a Senior Fellow and is involved in its project on Chinese in Southeast Asia. He has extensive experience working on Chinese communities in the region, including Indonesia, East Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, he was Principal Investigator for the Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery Documentation Project, which led to studies of Chinese migrant communities and Peranakan in Singapore, topics on which he has given seminars and public lectures.

Professor Kasian Tejapira, Thammasat University

The Sino-Thais' right turn towards China

Kasian Tejapira is a professor of political science at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. He is the author of numerous academic publications and a score of books in both Thai and English. He is also a noted columnist, burgeoning poet, and was formerly a radical activist and guerrilla fighter in the jungle of north-eastern Thailand.

Where China meets Southeast Asia: regional reconfigurations along the belt and road

Dr Alice Ba, University of Delaware

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