Southeast Asia, home to over 640 million people across 10 countries, is one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing regions. APARC just concluded the year 2019 with a Center delegation visit to two Southeast Asian capital cities, Hanoi and Bangkok, where we spent an engaging week with stakeholders in the academic, policy, business, and Stanford alumni communities.
Led by APARC Director Gi-Wook Shin, the delegation included APARC Deputy Director and Asia Health Policy Program Director Karen Eggleston, Southeast Asia Program Director Donald Emmerson, and APARC Associate Director for Communications and External Relations Noa Ronkin. Visiting Scholar Andrew Kim joined the delegation in Bangkok.
With a focus on health policy, our first day in Hanoi included a visit to Thai Nguyen University, a meeting with government representatives at the Vietnam Ministry of Health, and a seminar on healthy aging and innovation jointly with Hanoi Medical University.
Karen Eggleston and participants at the roundtable held at Hanoi Medical University, December 9, 2019.
Throughout the day, Eggleston presented some of her collaborative research that is part of two projects involving international research teams: one that assesses public-private roles and institutional innovation for healthy aging and another that examines the economics of caring for patients with chronic diseases across diverse health systems in Asia and other parts of the world. We appreciated learning from our counterparts about the health care system and health care delivery in Vietnam.
Shifting focus to international relations and regional security, day 2 in Hanoi opened with a roundtable, “The Rise of the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam-U.S. Relations,” held jointly with the East Sea Institute (ESI) of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV). Following a welcome by ESI Director General Nguyen Hung Son, the program continued with remarks by Shin, Emmerson, ESI Deputy Director General To Anh Tuan, and Assistant Director General Do Thanh Hai.
Roundtable at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, December 10, 2019.
The long-ranging conversation with DAV members included issues such as the future of the international order in Asia; the U.S. withdrawal from multilateralism; the concern about a lack of U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia, sparked by President Trump’s absence from the November 2019 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a time when China is bolstering its influence in the region and when ASEAN hopes to set a code of conduct with China regarding disputed waters in the South China Sea; the priorities for Vietnam as it assumes the role of ASEAN chair in 2020; and the challenges for the Vietnam-U.S. bilateral relationship amid the changing strategic environment in Southeast Asia.
In the afternoon we were joined by members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi at an AmCham-hosted Lunch ‘n’ Learn session on Vietnam's challenges and opportunities amid the U.S.-China rivalry. The event featured Emmerson in conversation with AmCham Hanoi Executive Director Adam Sitkoff.
(Left) Donald Emmerson in conversation with Adam Sitkoff; (right) Gi-Wook Shin welcomes AmCham Hanoi members; December 10, 2019.
Moving to Bangkok, delegation members Shin, Eggleston, Emmerson, and Kim spoke on a panel for executives of the Charoen Pokphand Group (C.P. Group), one of Thailand’s largest private conglomerates, addressing some of the core issues that lie ahead for Southeast Asia in 2020 and beyond in the areas of geopolitics, innovation, and health.
Top, from left to right: Gi-Wook Shin, Karen Eggleston, Andrew Kim; bottom: C.P. Group executive listening to the panel, December 12, 2019.
We also enjoyed a tour at True Digital Park, Thailand’s first startup and tech entrepreneur’s campus. Developed by the C.P. Group, True Digital Park aspires to be an open startup ecosystem that powers Thailand to become a global hub for digital innovation.
The following day, Shin and Emmerson participated in a public forum hosted by Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS Thailand), "Where Northeast Asia Meets Southeast Asia: The Great Powers, Global Disorder and Asia’s Future.” They were joined by ISIS Thailand Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak and Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Political Science Associate Dean for International Affairs and Graduate Studies Kasira Cheeppensook. The panel was moderated by Ms. Gwen Robinson, ISIS Thailand senior fellow and editor-at-large of the Nikkei Asian Review.
ISIS Thailand forum participants and panelists, from left: Pngsukdhirak, Shin, Robinson, Emmerson, Cheeppensook; December 13, 2019.
As part of that discussion, Emmerson speculated that – driven by deepening Chinese economic and migrational involvement in Southeast Asia’s northern tier – Cambodia and Laos, less conceivably Myanmar, and still less conceivably Thailand could become incorporated de facto into an economically integrated “greater China” that could eventually reduce ASEAN to a more-or-less maritime membership in the region’s southern tier. Emmerson’s speculation was made in the context of his critique of ASEAN’s emphasis on its own “centrality” to the neglect of its lack of the proactivity that would serve as evidence of centrality and of a desire not to be rendered peripheral by the growing centrality-cum-proactivity of China. The event was covered by the Bangkok Post (although that report’s headline and quote of Emmerson are inaccurate, as neither the panel nor Emmerson predicted the “break-up of ASEAN.”)
Stanford and IvyPlus alumni listening to the panel, December 13, 2019.
Moderated by Mr. Suthichai Yoon, a veteran journalist and founder of digital media outlet Kafedam Group, the conversation focused on the changing geopolitics of Southeast Asia, innovation and health in the region, and the opportunities and challenges facing Thailand-U.S. relations. It was a pleasure to meet many new and old friends from the Stanford and IvyPlus alumni communities.
APARC would like to thank our partners and hosts in Hanoi and Bangkok for their hospitality, collaboration, and the stimulating discussions throughout our visit. We look forward to keeping in touch!