Rule of Law
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In a workshop hosted jointly by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and the Southeast Asia Program of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center on March 9, 2023, scholars discussed the setbacks and prospects for democracy in Southeast Asia. The workshop included Stanford affiliates, visiting scholars at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and political scientists from several universities and research institutions in Japan, whose visit to Stanford was funded by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.

Democracies in Southeast Asia face challenges found among other democracies around the globe, including pervasive corruption, political polarization, and the spread of disinformation on social media.

These issues were prominent in the workshop presentations and discussions. At one point, APARC visiting scholar Gita Wirwajan used the opportunity to urge Stanford, being in Silicon Valley, to speak louder against the information-degrading effects of social media.

Scholars also discussed the other distinctive and challenging conditions in which democracy, development, and the rule of law must take root in Southeast Asia, including monarchial traditions, religious diversity, and proximity to China. Such topics ranged widely, from Islamic Law in the Indonesian province of Aceh through China-funded infrastructure in Myanmar to the Mindanao conflict in the Philippines.

Waseda University Associate Professor and CDDRL Visiting Scholar Marisa Kellam co-chaired the workshop’s panels and roundtables with APARC’s Southeast Asia Program Director and CDDRL Affiliated Faculty Donald Emmerson. On the panels, Kana Inata (Tokyo Metropolitan University) and Ruosui Zhang (Waseda University) presented papers for discussion by Michael Bennon and Francis Fukuyama (both Stanford). The roundtables featured papers or remarks by Lisandro Claudio (UC Berkeley), Reza Idria (Ar-Raniry State Islamic University), Yuko Kasuya (Keio University), Aya Watanabe (Institute of Developing Economies), and Gita Wirwajan (Ancora Group). Several Stanford students in the Masters of International Policy program attended the workshop and took part in the discussion, and we were pleased to welcome representatives from the Consulate General of both Indonesia and the Philippines as well.

Perspectives from Indonesia and the Philippines

The morning roundtable offered the two Indonesian scholars’ perspectives on democracy, development, and the rule of law in Indonesia. Idria, while acknowledging that Aceh in democratic Indonesia is almost a state inside a state, situated the province within larger socioeconomic and religious contexts. Wirjawan argued that Indonesia’s democracy needs to become meritocratic, which he linked to the need for improved education.

The afternoon roundtable on the Philippines focused on Bongbong Marcos’s victory in the 2022 Philippine presidential election. According to Claudio, Bongbong’s opponent had run on a good governance platform that failed to persuade voters accustomed to the dynastic personalism of Philippine politics. Kasuya augmented Claudio’s account with reference to the disinformation circulating through social media and the disintegration of political parties and other accountability institutions during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency. Watanabe’s scope included previous Philippine presidents, specifically their efforts to obtain legislative approval of the settlements negotiated to end the Mindanao insurgency.

Understanding Global Trends

In addition to the roundtable discussions on Indonesia and the Philippines, panel presentations at the workshop used Southeast Asian cases to understand global trends. Zhang’s research on the changing fate of the China-invested Myitsone dam project in Myanmar demonstrated that a developing country undergoing semi-democratic political change would not necessarily kowtow to Beijing. Inata compared the power of monarchs and described how monarchies have contributed to autocratization in Southeast Asia.

For Prof. Emmerson, the workshop’s value reflected the crucial and generous role played by Prof. Kellam in organizing the event; the scope and quality of its findings and interpretations; its coverage of an important region that lacks the attention Northeast Asia receives; and the all too rare collaboration that the workshop achieved between differently specialized components of Stanford University.

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Scholars from Asia joined faculty and researchers from Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) to present research and reflections on various topics and cases from the Southeast Asia region, including the monarchy in politics, peace-making in the Philippines, Chinese infrastructure investments in Myanmar, illiberalism in the Philippines, and Islamic law in Indonesia.

Workshop on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia

This workshop brings together scholars from Asia and the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University to discuss the state of democracy, development, and the rule of law in Southeast Asia. Through these broad lenses, the participants will present research and reflections on various topics and cases from the region, including the monarchy in politics, peace-making in the Philippines, Chinese infrastructure investments in Myanmar, illiberalism in the Philippines, and Islamic law in Indonesia.

Event Co-Chairs:

Marisa Kellam
Associate Professor, Waseda University and Visiting Scholar at CDDRL

Donald K. Emmerson
Director, Southeast Asia Program of Shorenstein APARC

9:30 – 10:00 AM — Coffee and Introductions

10:00 – 10:45 AM — Political and Social Risks of the BRI: China’s overseas infrastructure investment projects in Myanmar
Presenter: Ruosui Zhang, Ph.D. Candidate, Waseda University
Discussant: Mike Bennon, Research Scholar, Global Infrastructure Policy Research Initiative at CDDRL, Stanford University

Developing countries are not passive takers of China’s loans and investments, an oft-overlooked aspect in the political economy of China’s foreign investment. Tracing the changing fate of the Myitsone dam in Myanmar, this presentation will argue that an increase in accountability from military dictatorship to semi-democracy explains the suspension of the project by the Myanmar government in 2011. It will also argue that the change in the leadership’s ideology from the quasi-civilian to a civilian government explains why the project did not encounter further setbacks even though the accountability level increases in Myanmar in 2016. 

10:45 – 11:30 AM — Roundtable discussion on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law in Indonesia
Reza Idria, Assistant Professor, Ar-Raniry State Islamic University
Gita Wirjawan, Chairman, Ancora Group

This roundtable discussion will offer the perspectives of renowned Indonesia scholars on democracy, development and the rule of law in their country. In particular, Reza Idria will discuss the social and political responses to Sharia in Aech, and its broader implications for the rule of law in Indonesia. Gita Wira will speak about prospects and challenges for Indonesian democracy and development, including his expectations for the outcome and impact of elections next year.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM — Lunch and Informal Discussion 

12:30 – 1:15 PM — Monarchy and Autocratization: Cases in Southeast Asia
Presenter: Kana Inata, Associate Professor, Tokyo Metropolitan University
Discussant: Francis Fukuyama, Professor and Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at CDDRL, Stanford University

Focusing on Southeast Asian monarchies, this presentation will highlight monarchs’ involvement in processes of autocratization in the region. The talk will contend that the monarchy intervenes directly as an autocratizer in Malaysia and Brunei, whereas the monarchy is used indirectly to justify autocratization by government actors in Thailand and Cambodia. In making these claims, the talk will clarify the boundaries between monarch’s de jure and de facto interventions in politics and will consider monarchical accountability. 

1:15 – 2:30 PM — Roundtable discussion on Democracy and the Rule of Law in the Philippines
Aya Watanabe (Researcher, Institute of Developing Economies-JETRO)
Lisandro Claudio (Associate Professor, UC Berkeley)
Yuko Kasuya (Professor, Keio University)

This discussion will consider the nature of democracy and its impact on the rule of law in the Philippines. Aya Watanabe will argue that the electoral prospects of politicians have complicated peace-making in the Mindanao conflict given that the negotiated settlements must be approved and implemented within the democratic political system. Both Lisandro Claudio and Yuko Kasuya will offer reflections on the May 2022 Philippine presidential election, and the pervasiveness of illiberalism, corruption, and violence in Philippine democracy more generally.

2:30 – 3:00 PM — Reflections 
Co-chairs and participants

Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

This event is open to Stanford affiliates and invited guests only.

Event flyer with portrait of speaker Daniel Leese.

This event is co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute, Pacific Office Berkeley and the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. 

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) faced a major predicament. Since the new leadership did not allow a free exchange of opinions, the problem was how to obtain reliable information and prevent the circulation of rumors and “fake news.” To deal with this “dictator’s dilemma,” the CCP developed a two-pronged approach. Besides public news items that catered to the mobilizational aspects of party policies, it established secret feedback channels, the so-called neican, or internal reference, bulletins. These were strictly tasked with separating facts from opinion to provide the leadership with an objective account of developments in China and abroad. Over time, a distinct system for the controlled circulation of intelligence, an “information order,” took shape. In this talk, Leese will outline some general features of this information order and comment on whether it was able to circumvent the problem of information bias in authoritarian systems.


Daniel Leese Headshot
Daniel Leese is professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Freiburg, Germany. He is, among others, the author of Mao cult. Rhetoric and Ritual during China’s Cultural Revolution (CUP 2011) and Mao’s Long Shadow: How China dealt with its Past (in German), which won the ICAS Best Book Award and was shortlisted for the German Non-Fiction Award. He currently works on a new project that traces what the party leadership knew about domestic and international affairs through secret communication channels.

Andrew G. Walder

In-Person at Okimoto Room, Encina Hall 3rd Floor

Daniel Leese
Alice Wenner
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The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University is pleased to announce that Stephen Kotkin has been appointed to the position of FSI Senior Fellow, effective September 1, 2022.

Kotkin is based at FSI’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), and is affiliated with FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, as well. He holds a joint appointment with the Hoover Institution as the Kleinheinz Senior Fellow.

"Stephen is a remarkable academic and public intellectual whose work has transformed our understanding of Russian history and the historical processes that have shaped today’s global geopolitics,” said APARC Director Gi-Wook Shin. “We are proud to have him as our colleague at APARC and are excited to work together to expand the center’s scholarship on the role and impact of the Eurasian powers in the era of great-power competition."

Prior to joining FSI, Kotkin was the Birkelund Professor of History and International Affairs in what was formerly known as the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, where he taught for 33 years. He now holds that title as emeritus. In addition to founding and running Princeton’s Global History Initiative, Kotkin directed the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and served as the founding co-director of the Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy. He chaired the editorial board of Princeton University Press.

“Joining the ranks of the phenomenal scholars at FSI is a dream come true,” Kotkin stated.

Stephen is a remarkable academic and public intellectual whose work has transformed our understanding of Russian history and the historical processes that have shaped today’s global geopolitics.
Gi-Wook Shin
Director of Shorenstein APARC

Kotkin’s scholarly contributions span the fields of Russian-Soviet, Northeast Asian, and global history. His publications include Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, and Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, part of a three-volume history of Russian power in the world and of Stalin’s power in Russia.

"I am thrilled to welcome Stephen to FSI this fall,” said FSI Director Michael McFaul. “He is an excellent addition to the cutting-edge research and teaching team at APARC, and I look forward to seeing the important impact he makes in his new role."

Kotkin writes reviews and essays for The Times Literary Supplement, Foreign Affairs, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He was the business book reviewer for the New York Times Sunday Business Section for a number of years. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Rochester in 1981 and received a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 1988, and during that time took a graduate seminar at Stanford.

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Kotkin’s research interests include authoritarianism, geopolitics, global political economy, and modernism in the arts and politics.

The Irrawaddy
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This interview with Scot Marciel was originally published by The Irrawaddy. Marciel, who served as U.S. ambassador to Myanmar from March 2016 through May 2020, is a visiting practitioner fellow on Southeast Asia at APARC. His forthcoming book, Imperfect Partners: The United States and Southeast Asia, which interprets the region and its relations with the United States historically and at present, will be published by APARC later this year.

Since it seized power in February 2021, Myanmar’s military regime has ignored international calls to end its use of violence, release political prisoners and negotiate with its opponents. Some Western nations have applied sanctions, while powerful neighbors India and China have largely sought to protect their own interests. Regional bloc ASEAN has been split, with some members seeking to engage the junta and others calling for contact with the shadow National Unity Government. The Irrawaddy spoke to Scot Marciel, former United States ambassador to Myanmar (2016-20) and currently a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Walter Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, about the current state of regional and international efforts to tackle the Myanmar crisis.

The Irrawaddy: There have been many tragic stories in Myanmar since the coup. It is not enough to just pressure the regime to change its behavior or to make concessions. Can you talk about how the international community and regional groupings such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should assist the Myanmar people?

Marciel: I would offer two thoughts. First, I don’t think you can expect ASEAN to solve this problem, certainly not by itself. The ASEAN Five-Point Consensus, while it’s done with very good intentions, not only are the points not being implemented, they are actually not appropriate for the situation in Myanmar in my view. So it is a mistake to dwell on the Five-Point Consensus. I don’t really blame ASEAN too much for that because the junta is refusing to be reasonable at all and make any kind of concessions. Second, as Malaysia’s foreign minister has suggested publicly, more engagement with the National Unity Government (NUG) and other figures opposed to the junta is really important. I am pleased to see that [US] Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Zin Mar Aung [the NUG foreign minister, on Aug. 12] in Washington. I think there needs to be more engagement with the NUG and other actors, recognizing that trying to convince the generals to hold talks with those who oppose them is not really a very useful way of going about things.

The Irrawaddy: Do you think the NUG is the best option, aside from Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and other stakeholders, in terms of whom the US and ASEAN should be engaging with?

Marciel: I know some people have not been fully satisfied with the NUG. I understand that, but it’s certainly one important factor that has a lot more legitimacy than the junta for sure. I think it is useful to engage with the NUG, but also with actors who are seeking to return the country to a democratic and peaceful path.

The Irrawaddy: When we talk about ASEAN there are some criticisms because so far the Five-Point Consensus as you said is going nowhere, but people keep talking about it. We, ourselves, have become the hostages of the consensus. Beyond ASEAN, there has also been some criticism that the US and other Western countries are outsourcing the Myanmar crisis to ASEAN. We know that ASEAN is toothless and powerless, and so far has achieved little on Myanmar. Why has the West outsourced the problem to ASEAN?

Marciel: To be fair, at least for the United States, I don’t think the United States is necessarily expecting ASEAN by itself to solve the problem. The truth is I don’t know any outside player that can solve the problem. ASEAN can help. This goes back to, among other things, the Five-Point Consensus. It’s not just that the points aren’t being implemented, they really aren’t appropriate for the situation. A ceasefire… OK If the military stops all violence and allows peaceful protests, that would be useful. But does anyone really think that is going to happen? Second, dialogue, my sense is, again I can’t speak for the Myanmar people, but it seems people aren’t interested in negotiating and compromising with the military junta. They want them out of power. And I think the international community should be supporting those efforts, rather than proposing and calling for some kind of dialogue that is completely unrealistic, at least at this time.

Maximum pressure, both internally and externally, on Myanmar’s military, whether it’s by sanctions or other means, is the best chance of achieving progress, though it won’t be easy.
Amb. Scot Marciel

The Irrawaddy: In the past, the US has played a major role in promoting democracy, freedom and federal union in Myanmar. You know in 2008-09, we had Kurt Campbell, one of the key architects of the pivot to Asia and of course specific Myanmar policies of principled engagement, and the carrot-and-stick approach, where sanctions were imposed but also with the incentive that if reforms took place, the sanctions would be eased. There was very consistent and intense communication with the-then regime and the opposition in Myanmar. Do you think that, in coordination with ASEAN, the US can work on Myanmar issues with the same vigor and energy as it did in the late 2000s?

Marciel: It’s a good question. It’s very clear that the US and the Biden administration remain very supportive of efforts to help the country go back to democracy and peace and federal union. But my sense is that it’s hard to figure out what they can actually do to make that happen. There’s not a lot of easy choices, whether it’s the United States or ASEAN, because the generals do not seem interested in doing anything positive, they are just holding onto power. We’ve seen what they are willing to do to their own people for the sake of holding power. And it narrows the space for diplomacy, certainly. I would have a very hard time if I were still in the government saying we should engage with the junta and try to create incentives for them because I think there is no chance, absent them feeling much more pressure, that they are willing to seriously consider changing their approach.

The Irrawaddy: Do you think there should be more sanctions, more pressure, including maybe an arms embargo? What about ASEAN and other countries like China, Thailand, and India?

Marciel: There is no great option right now. I don’t believe there is, at this point at least, any opportunity for dialogue that will return the country to a democratic path or democratic federalism. I don’t think the military can restore stability and govern the country effectively. So the best possible scenario is for the military to face so much pressure, that they then begin to look for a way out. So yes, I think maximum pressure, both internally and externally, on the military whether it’s by sanctions or other means is the best chance of achieving progress, though it won’t be easy.

The Irrawaddy: We have a powerful neighbor, China, which shares a long border with Myanmar. We also have our neighbor Thailand, which is absorbing refugees, migrant workers, and asylum seekers. Because of the crisis, they are also sharing the burden. Obviously, China is always supportive of those in power, whether it is the regime or a democratic government. If China and Thailand don’t make any moves, don’t apply any external pressure, it is hard to see any policy of maximizing pressure on the regime working. Do you agree?

Marciel: I agree that there are limits in terms of external pressure. That’s why there is no easy answer. It seems that China is willing to support the junta even though nearly the entire population of Myanmar opposes that. I don’t think that is likely to change. On Thailand, I hope that the Thai authorities will see that the longer the military is in power, the more problems there are going to be across the border, including refugees and instability. And the Thais, I think, will have an interest in pressing in their own way, pressing the military to look for a way out, because otherwise this crisis is going to continue and Thailand’s going to suffer from some of these cross-border challenges, including very serious humanitarian issues.

The Irrawaddy: We have heard that the regime is not happy with the idea of—the wording is quite sensitive—a humanitarian corridor. But Thailand will have to play a key role if cross-border assistance and humanitarian assistance are to reach a large number of Myanmar people. What are your thoughts on that, as the US has made at least four high-ranking official visits to Thailand since the coup? Should the Biden administration engage and cooperate with the Thai government to provide assistance?

Marciel: There is a lot of discussion between the US and Thai officials on this. I don’t know the substance of those discussions. I am not sure what exactly has been said. But to me the United States and Thailand, even if we may have somewhat different views on the coup and the junta, we should try to find a way to work together at a minimum to address the serious humanitarian need right along the Thai border and just across the border. You know it is not easy for Thailand as a neighbor of Myanmar having to deal with the junta. But I think there are ways that this could be done carefully and I assume that these discussions are happening between the United States and Thailand. I hope that they lead to greater and more successful efforts to get humanitarian assistance to the border and across the border on behalf of Myanmar people.

The Irrawaddy: Not only Thailand but, since 1988, the US has also been one of the more generous countries in taking Myanmar refugees and asylum seekers from the Thailand-Myanmar border. This time, again, we see the educated people, the middle class, technicians, professionals, artists, media, and IT people leaving Myanmar. It is a brain drain for Myanmar, but a brain gain for the countries they go to. Do you agree that those people are hugely beneficial to those societies?

Marciel: Yes, I agree. I think, the US processing of…I hate to sound bureaucratic, but you know working to welcome refugees is not a fast process, because there are so many refugees around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and other places. The US does, as you said, have a long record of accepting and welcoming refugees from Burma/Myanmar. I expect that will continue. I mean, it serves one aspect. A lot of people want to go back to the country and contribute, but right now the conditions aren’t right. For those who definitely want to leave, I think the United States will continue to welcome them. But there is a process because there are so many refugees around the world now.

The Irrawaddy: In Myanmar, as in any country, the people need a professional military, but not the one we have right now. That’s why people have taken up arms against it and the regime. You wrote an article about the Myanmar military last year. Can you talk about reform in the military and security sector?

Marciel: It is too bad that the situation has reached the point that people feel like they have no choice but to take up arms. I don’t judge them for that. It is unfortunate. But the military took away the peaceful option for people to protest or express their views against the junta. It is understandable why a number of people have taken up arms. I wrote the article because I was hearing from some people in the region and around the world saying well, the Myanmar military is an essential institution and one of the country’s few unifying institutions. I disagree. In theory, it should be a unifying institution, but it hasn’t been one. It’s been one that has been a source of so much division and so much conflict. I am sure that there are individuals in the military who would like to work in a professional military but, at least at the leadership level, the culture of brutality and impunity is so deeply ingrained that I don’t think you can reason with these generals. I think Myanmar does need a military, but a dramatically reformed military that will be answerable to the civilian government and that, over many years, will adopt a very different culture and will respect human rights instead of waging war on the people.

Phot of Scot Marciel

Scot Marciel

Visiting Practitioner Fellow on Southeast Asia, APARC
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The Irrawaddy spoke to Scot Marciel, former United States ambassador to Myanmar and currently a visiting scholar at APARC, about the current state of regional and international efforts to tackle the Myanmar crisis.


This event is available through livestream only. Please register in advance to receive a personalized link to watch the webinar:

Myanmar Back into Darkness: 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award Recipient Swe Win to Headline Award Panel Discussion

The military coup in February 2021 put an abrupt end to hopes of democracy and liberty in Myanmar.  With every form of free speech now brutally suppressed, one of the major victims of the coup has been the independent press. Newsrooms were raided and dozens of journalists have been arrested. Several publications, including Myanmar Now, had their operating licenses revoked and their websites blocked. Most of the staff of the news outlets targets by the junta were forced to flee to territories along the country's border areas controlled by ethnic armed organizations. From there, they continue their professional work despite the threats to their lives and logistical difficulties.  

Join APARC as we honor Burmese investigative journalist Swe Win, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now and winner of the 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award. In his award keynote address, Swe Win will speak about journalism under threat in Myanmar, what it is like to report on the crisis in the country from outside while in exile, and Myanmar’s future.

The keynote will be followed by a conversation with Swe Win and two experts: Scot Marciel, a career diplomat, former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, and currently a visiting practitioner fellow on Southeast Asia at APARC, and Eileen Donahoe, executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford.

The event will conclude with an audience Q&A session moderated by Donald K. EmmersonDirector of the Southeast Asia Program at APARC.

Follow us on Twitter and use the hashtag #SJA21 to join the conversation.


Photo of Swe Win, winner of 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award
Swe Win is a Burmese journalist, human rights defender, and the chief editor of Yangon-based news outlet Myanmar Now. He has survived an assassination attempt and detention by his own government. Now he leads Myanmar Now from exile and his newsroom is in hiding.

Swe Win has written extensively on human rights cases that involve physical injury or death, unlawful detention or miscarriage of justice in Myanmar. He is the recipient of the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, which is regarded as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the 2017 European Union’s Schuman Award for Human Rights, and the 2016 Presidential Certificate of Honor for Social Service through Journalism from the Myanmar Ministry of Information for his groundbreaking investigation into years-long abuse of domestic workers at a Yangon tailor shop.

Previously, he worked as a senior reporter for the Irrawaddy Magazine and freelanced for international publications such as the New York Times. From 1998 to 2005, he spent seven years in jail for distributing anti-junta material.

Photograph: Thet Htoo for the Mekong Review -


Photo of Eileen Donahoe
Eileen Donahoe is the executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator (GDPI) at the Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. GDPI is a global multi-stakeholder collaboration hub for development of policies that reinforce human rights and democratic values in digitized society. Areas of current research include AI and human rights, combating digital disinformation, and governance of digital platforms.

Donahoe served in the Obama administration as the first U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, at a time of significant institutional reform and innovation. After leaving government, she joined Human Rights Watch as director of global affairs, where she represented the organization worldwide on human rights foreign policy, with special emphasis on digital rights, cybersecurity, and internet governance. Earlier in her career, she was a technology litigator at Fenwick & West in Silicon Valley.

She serves on the National Endowment for Democracy Board of Directors; the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity; the World Economic Forum Future Council on the Digital Economy; University of Essex Advisory Board on Human Rights, Big Data and Technology; NDI Designing for Democracy Advisory Board; Freedom Online Coalition Advisory Network; and Dartmouth College Board of Trustees.


Photo of Scot Marciel
Scot Marciel is a career diplomat with 35 years of experience in Asia and around the world. He is currently a visiting practitioner fellow on Southeast Asia at Shorenstein APARC.

Mr. Marciel served as U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar from March 2016 through May 2020, leading a mission of 500 employees during the difficult Rohingya crisis and a challenging time for both Myanmar’s democratic transition and the United States-Myanmar relationship. Prior to serving in Myanmar, Ambassador Marciel served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific at the State Department, where he oversaw U.S. relations with Southeast Asia.

In previous roles, he served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, the first U.S. ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, at U.S. missions in Turkey, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Brazil and the Philippines, and at the State Department in Washington in multiple positions.


About the Shorenstein Journalism Award:

The Shorenstein Journalism Award, which carries a cash prize of US $10,000, recognizes outstanding journalists who have spent their careers helping audiences around the world understand the complexities of the Asia-Pacific region, defined broadly to include Northeast, Southeast, South, and Central Asia and Australasia. Award recipients are veteran journalists with a distinguished body of work. News organizations are also eligible for the award.

The award is sponsored and presented by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) at Stanford University. It honors the legacy of the Center’s benefactor, Mr. Walter H. Shorenstein, and his twin passions for promoting excellence in journalism and understanding of Asia. It also symbolizes the Center’s commitment to journalism that persistently and courageously seeks accuracy, deep reporting, and nuanced coverage in an age when attacks are regularly launched on the independent news media, on fact-based truth, and on those who tell it.

An annual tradition, the Shorenstein Journalism Award alternates between recipients whose work has mostly been conveyed through American news media and recipients whose work has mostly been conveyed through news media in one or more parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Included among the latter candidates are journalists who are from the region and work there, and who, in addition to their recognized excellence, may have helped defend and encourage free media in one or more countries in the region.

Learn more at

Virtual Webinar Via Zoom

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Swe Win <br><i>Editor-in-Chief, Myanmar Now; 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award Winner </i><br><br>
Eileen Donahoe <br><i> Executive Director, Global Digital Policy Incubator, Stanford University </i><br><br>
Scot Marciel <br><i> Career Diplomat, Former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar; Visiting Practitioner Fellow on Southeast Asia, Shorenstein APARC, Stanford University </i><br><br>
Panel Discussions
Donald K. Emmerson
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This essay was first published in the political quarterly Democracy Journal. It is part of a four-essay collection, titled The Stakes in Asia, on the future of U.S.-Asian relations. This essay focuses on the nations of Southeast Asia, the three other essays on China, Japan, and South and North Korea. 


EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY” read the t-shirt worn by 19-year-old Ma Kyal Sin, also known as “Angel,” in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 3, 2021. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young Burmese had thronged the streets of their country’s cities to continue protesting the military’s seizure of power the month before. She had joined them to serve on the front line, hoping to protect her unarmed companions from the advancing police. She was shot in the back of the head and died. Soon after she was buried, the junta exhumed her body, took it away, and filled her grave with concrete. The regime then claimed that autopsy results showed the bullet in her brain could only have been fired by another demonstrator. Yet when she was shot, she had her back to the oncoming police.

Everything is not okay in Myanmar and won’t be for some time to come. As of the beginning of April, the country’s military, or Tatmadaw, led by the coup’s leader, army General Min Aung Hlaing, had killed an estimated 400 unarmed Burmese, who were guilty of nothing but peacefully protesting the general’s merciless usurping regime. By mid-April, the junta’s murders exceeded 700 in number.

Nor is everything okay next door in Thailand, another mainland Southeast Asian state. Seven years have passed since that country’s latest coup in 2014—the 13th successful seizure of power there since the overthrow of its then-absolute monarchy in 1932. Although elections were finally held in 2019, the military manipulated them to reinforce its rule. Young Thais have been demonstrating against the government off and on since early in 2020.

East of Thailand are three more China-facing states in mainland Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Cambodia’s dictator Hun Sen has kept his grip on power for more than 36 years, a record exceeded in Asia only by the Ayatollah Khameini in Iran. In March 2021, a Cambodian court did Hun Sen’s bidding yet again by sentencing the nine senior members of the country’s already banned opposition party, including its leader, to more than two decades in prison, effectively barring them from ever returning home from exile.

Laos is, in effect, a fiefdom of the harshly dominant Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), whose leaders have quashed opposition, curtailed liberties, and forcibly suppressed the formation of a civil society independent of that single-party state. Vietnam’s draconian law on cybersecurity outlaws the “organizing, activating, colluding, instigating, bribing, cheating or tricking, manipulating, training, or drilling” of “people to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” while also criminalizing undefined actions such as “causing confusion,” “distorting history,” and “denying revolutionary achievements.” Unsurprisingly, Laos and Vietnam rank 172nd and 175th, respectively, on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries.

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The Mainland-Maritime Contrast

Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam constitute sub-continental Southeast Asia. Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam share land borders with China. The remaining Southeast Asian states—the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Timor-Leste—are peninsular or insular in character and farther from China. It is common practice in Southeast Asian studies to distinguish the China-proximate five “landed” or mainland countries in northwestern Southeast Asia from the “maritime” six farther to the south and the east.

Six of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are “Not Free”: Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. More than half of ASEAN is despotic by this measure, and of those six authoritarian members, five are on the mainland.

Geography and geology are not the same. Of the five mainland countries, four have seacoasts; only Laos is land-locked. All of the six maritime states are entirely or partly archipelagic. But Malaysia and Singapore are subcontinental in that they occupy the southernmost end of peninsular Southeast Asia. A projected three-stranded set of overland railroads connecting Malaysia and Singapore to mainland China, if completed, could socioeconomically enhance their subcontinental character. The strands would run southward from Kunming, the capital city of China’s Yunnan province, through Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam to Bangkok in Thailand and onward through Malaysia to Singapore. Completing these north-south connections has been a priority of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Fears of “mainlandization”—Sinification—have arisen in that context. China’s presence is already amply manifest in the northern parts of Myanmar and Laos, where economic and cultural enclaves have formed around the influxes of tourists and immigrants from the PRC. Expatriate and local Chinese dominate the economy of Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, where young Ma Kyal Sin died. Mandarin is widely spoken there. If the BRI succeeds, if the north-south tracks are laid and maintained, and if traffic then flourishes back and forth to the mutual “win-win” benefit of China and all of the five Southeast Asian economies along the way, Beijing could further enlarge its footprint in the region.

Could does not mean will. The world economy shrank by more than 4 percent in 2020. Infrastructure is costly, and its returns are long-term. To varying extents in different countries, envisioned connectivity has become a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments have closed borders to reduce transmission of the virus and its variants. In 2019-2020, the pace of overseas lending by China’s policy banks slowed, and Chinese spending on megaprojects in the BRI fell to its lowest level ever. China’s latest five-year plan calls for “dual circulation,” abroad as well as at home, but the domestic economy is given priority.

That said, China’s economic growth in 2021 could reach 8 percent and thereby fuel Beijing’s campaign for influence in mainland Southeast Asia. In Laos, for example, aggressive Chinese lenders and corrupt local elites have indebted that country to the point that its lucrative electricity exports may soon be controlled by China. As one of the poorest members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Laos needs those revenues. Majority control over the country’s network of high-voltage power lines could give Beijing leverage that it could wield to ensure that Laos remains a compliant “friend” of China.

As illustrated by the case of China-facing Laos, the distribution of despotism in Southeast Asia tends to reinforce the mainland-maritime divide. “Many have said over the years that ASEAN is a club of dictators,” a Human Rights Watch official observed in 2016.

That harsh judgment is less of an exaggeration than one would wish. According to Freedom House, six of the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are “Not Free”: Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. More than half of ASEAN is despotic by this measure, and of those six authoritarian members, five are on the mainland. The only maritime autocracy is tiny Brunei, an absolute monarchy perched on the coast of Borneo facing the South China Sea. The remaining four ASEAN states—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore—are all maritime and rated “Partly Free.” The lone “Free” country in the region is Timor-Leste, which occupies three neighboring bits of territory in the Indonesian archipelago and is not a member of ASEAN, although it would like to join.

Three crude descriptions follow: First, mainland Southeast Asia is autocratic. Second, maritime Southeast Asia is semi-democratic—a middle or mixed position reflected in the balance between the two smallest sea-linked states by population, autocratic Brunei and democratic Timor-Leste. Third, ASEAN’s membership tilts authoritarian, being six-tenths autocratic, four-tenths semi-democratic, and zero tenths democratic by Freedom House standards.

China’s Role: ‘Stability’ Over Democracy

How should China and its strategy be factored into these comparisons? Is geography destiny? Xi Jinping and his advisors would like their Southeast Asian counterparts to think so. Consider Beijing’s proposal for an ASEAN-China Community of Common Destiny. Does “community of common destiny” express China’s empathy, its presumption, or its intention to possess and preempt? Beijing wants its Southeast Asian neighbors to treat the idea of sharing a community as reassuring proof of how much and how sincerely China cares about them and their region. But a common destiny precludes divergent scenarios and destinations. If China’s destiny is to remain a party-state dictatorship under one leader for life, does Beijing want that same fate to encompass the rest of Southeast Asia? Does it strive to “mainlandize” the entire region by reinforcing top-down rule in “Not Free” Southeast Asia and making the “Partly Free” maritime states “Not Free” as well?

Shorn of all pretense, Xi Jinping’s hope is that China’s southern neighbors will look at a map and give up [...] Although China’s political template is authoritarian, Xi is not an evangelist for autocracy in Southeast Asia.

China is not evangelically despotic toward its neighbors in an ideological sense. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is an unexportable mishmash—oxymoronic in theory, contingent in practice, and parochial by its very name. As a candidate for travel beyond the PRC, it lacks legs. Nor is China counting on converting Southeast Asians into loyal fans of a Chinese model. Beijing is vigorously trying to bolster its soft power and incentivize its neighbors to acknowledge and join a Chinese sphere of regional influence voluntarily. The ASEAN states collectively are already China’s largest trading partner and vice versa. But if public diplomacy and economic embraces fail, it is fatalism, not communism, that Beijing is betting on.

Shorn of all pretense, Xi Jinping’s hope is that China’s southern neighbors will look at a map and give up. Why? Because, as the PRC’s current top diplomat Yang Jiechi famously told his ASEAN counterparts in 2010, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” As if big China were saying to its small neighbors: Our common destiny is to experience and accept the disparity between us, for we and you are destined to remain unequal, whether you like it or not. Take the South China Sea. We—the PRC—were always destined to absorb nearly all of that body of water based on Chinese sovereignty “formed over the course of over two thousand years,” to quote Jiechi in 2016.

The South China Sea is not lebensraum. It is not viewed in Beijing the way Berlin saw Poland in August 1939. Nevertheless, Xi’s China continues to manufacture destiny with Chinese characteristics in the heartwater of Southeast Asia by creating maritime facts on the water that Southeast Asians cannot reverse. These include China’s forcible possession of land features claimed by ASEAN’s littoral states; its conversion of those features into military bases from which it can threaten the region; and its orchestration of at-sea collisions, near-collisions, encirclements, and swarmings to stop Southeast Asians from fishing or from lifting undersea oil and gas even within their own Exclusive Economic Zones, all in clear violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing hopes that someday its control over the South China Sea and the land features it has weaponized there will be “just a fact” that ASEAN’s members will have had to accept, their lack of China’s size and strength having convinced them that they have no choice but to kowtow. Rather than trying to seed the region with despotisms in China’s image, Beijing prefers to encourage Southeast Asian fatalism, and with it the passivity and resignation to subservience that sheer necessity would imply.

Although China’s political template is authoritarian, Xi is not an evangelist for autocracy in Southeast Asia. If, as has been claimed, Xi’s China is “ideologically bankrupt,” it has no surplus in ideas to spend convincing the world to mimic its doctrine. As exportable advice, the formula that Beijing does represent—regime legitimation by economic performance—is more pragmatic than ideological. There are, nevertheless, three ways in which Chinese foreign policy in Southeast Asia affects, and is affected by, the more despotic character of ASEAN’s mainland compared with its maritime member states.

As it seeks to influence its neighbors and the world beyond, Xi’s China may be ideologically promiscuous. But Beijing does love stability. When Adam Prezorskwi described democracy as “institutionalized uncertainty,” he noted its potentially beneficial effect. The unpredictability of electoral outcomes in a democratic system is stabilizing insofar as it motivates a losing candidate not to turn against the system but rather to run again within it. The chance of victory—positive uncertainty—may warrant another try.

But institutionalized uncertainty is anathema to the Communist Party of China. The power and authority of the CPC under a could-be leader for life supplies the institutionalized certainty that a stable dictatorship needs—or thinks it needs—to survive. Rapid economic growth and the systematic forestalling of civil society in China continue at least to postpone recourse to another Tiananmen massacre. In roughly comparable ways, institutionalized repression in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam has helped keep those dictatorships stable—so far. Beijing’s faith in the stabilizing power of institutionalized certainty makes dealing with foreign despots a subjectively rational choice. And doing so can at least simplify Chinese diplomacy. Democracies have more actors who need to be taken into account, including critics of China whose barbs are protected speech.

Consider Myanmar. Given Beijing’s economic and strategic stake in using Myanmar as a way station for greater Chinese access to the Indian Ocean, Xi is probably furious that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has rendered Myanmar unstable and unpredictable. The general’s regime is not innately pro-China. But Beijing likely calculates that a democratic alternative to military rule could jeopardize China’s position even more. In the days immediately following the Tatmadaw’s seizure of power, Beijing did not even acknowledge that a coup had taken place, calling it a mere “cabinet reshuffle” and blocking the UN Security Council from criticizing what had occurred. Inside Myanmar, anti-China protests ensued, with accusations stemming from rumors that China might even have encouraged the coup due to its own despotic character and inclination. The rumors sound unfounded, but the fact that they circulated among democracy-minded opponents of the junta could only reinforce Beijing’s preference for military rule.

Xi’s China craves praise. Chinese “wolf warrior” diplomats in Southeast Asia have not been shy about urging and thus implicitly requiring recipients of Chinese “gifts,” including vaccines for local use against the COVID-19 virus, to publicly thank China for its generosity—preferably in profuse terms. In a democracy that values personal worth more than hierarchical deference and obligatory gratitude, kowtowing may be unpopular. In contrast, under a despot, obligatory upward fawning may be normal and thus more easily performed to please a foreign donor. An authoritarian patron may welcome such expressions of fealty as signs of submission. In addition, China’s often visceral dismissal of foreign criticism, compared with the normality of critique in democratic states, would suggest that Beijing prefers to deal with leaders of governments that enforce gratitude for reasons of material dependence on China, as opposed to those who refuse to self-censor. Looking back and forward toward the future, China’s history as a presumptuous empire and its Xi-led quest for “rejuvenation” to recover former glory, before its “century of humiliation” by the West, are not conducive to comportment as a Westphalian state dealing on a basis of equality with other states.

Third and finally, if authoritarian China is about product with little regard for process, whereas democratic society reverses those priorities, it stands to reason that China’s policymakers may, other things being equal, prefer to partner with autocratic heads of state who can get things done, never mind how.

Pushing Back and Looking Forward

Deterministically structural explanations of China’s influence in Southeast Asia—size, proximity, a magnetic economy—overlook the human factor: the capacity of the region’s people and leaders to question and reject dependence on tectonic conditions that stack the deck in China’s favor. To Beijing’s likely chagrin, that capacity is amply evident in the opinions of elite-level Southeast Asians who follow their countries’ foreign affairs. The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s consecutive annual surveys of the views of these individuals have revealed their rising mistrust of China and, conversely, their rising trust of the United States.

Sampled in 2018, these elites mistrusted China and the United States in equal measure. In that year, 52 percent had little to no confidence that China would “do the right thing” in world affairs, while 51 percent said the same thing about the United States. But in 2019 and 2020, that pox on both houses has consistently and markedly evolved in China’s disfavor. By 2020, 63 percent of the Southeast Asian respondents mistrusted China, compared with 31 percent who mistrusted America. If that shift seems odd in light of the destabilizing idiosyncrasies of Donald Trump, it should be noted that the 2020 survey was conducted late in the final year of his presidency and the questions were about what China and the United States could be expected to do in the future. China’s hope for loyal neighbors received a further blow in the answers to a question about whether ASEAN, were it forced to align itself with one of the two big rivals, should side with China or with the United States. Although 39 percent of the respondents opted for China, 62 percent chose the United States.

Opinions are malleable. The popularities of China and the United States will fluctuate in tandem with future events. Although the survey research cited above has portrayed China as untrustworthy, expansionists in Beijing could take comfort in the data on Southeast Asian perceptions of relative power as a matter of fact, trustworthiness aside. Asked in 2020 which country or regional organization (such as ASEAN or the European Union) was the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia, 76 percent said China. Merely 7 percent named America. China won as well, though by a less overwhelming margin, when the same question was asked regarding political and strategic influence. That China is most consequential in those regards garnered 49 percent agreement, compared with 30 percent who thought the United States fitted that description. In effect, the survey inadvertently endorsed China’s cultivation of acquiescent fatalism in Southeast Asia—destiny over opportunity, realpolitik over moralpolitik—to the marginal advantage of Beijing.

In the months and years to come, major outside actors—the United States, Japan, and India among others—could work with autonomy-seeking Southeast Asian states to slow the Chinese juggernaut in Southeast Asia.

China is not significantly or consistently more or less popular in mainland Southeast Asia than it is in the maritime part of the region. Mistrust of China, for example, is highest in mainland Vietnam and in the maritime Philippines, albeit for different reasons. The Vietnamese remember their history of resistance to domination by China and resent its current bullying in the South China Sea. The latter behavior also angers Filipinos, whose own post-colonial history has tended, with exceptions, to involve accommodation with the United States. But the existence of a structural straitjacket that a Sinocentric understanding of “common destiny” would imply is more evident in the countries located closer to China that are accordingly less able to ignore their huge, overbearing, and censorial neighbor.

China is not willfully spreading autocracy in Southeast Asia. China’s relations with its neighbors are motivated by interest not ideology. With the stark exception of Vietnam, however, one can envision an authoritarian symbiosis of sorts developing between despotic China and potential satellite despotisms along its southern land border. Myanmar could become a test case in this context. If the junta crushes the opposition, if ASEAN does little more than slap the wrist of its murderous member, and if Western outrage drives the Tatmadaw into China’s arms, the growth of a Chinese sphere of influence based on authoritarian connivance could someday even split ASEAN roughly into its northwestern-subcontinental and southeastern-archipelagic parts.

Nevertheless, at least for now, the bravery of the martyred Ma Kyal Sin and her co-protestors in Myanmar, and of their counterparts in Thailand protesting against their own military regime, evokes, at least for now, a less despotic and subordinated future for Southeast Asia. Authoritarian instability is not an oxymoron. China’s own domestic stability and prosperity are not guaranteed. Its soft power deficit is real, and its overreaching under Xi Jinping could continue to vindicate Southeast Asian distrust. In the months and years to come, major outside actors—the United States, Japan, and India among others—could work with autonomy-seeking Southeast Asian states to slow the Chinese juggernaut in Southeast Asia.

A fresh wave of democratization in Southeast Asia is not on the horizon. But the destiny of even the already undemocratic mainland portion of Southeast Asia is not—not yet at least—made in Beijing.

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Portrait of Swe Win with text "2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award Recipient"

Swe Win, Editor-in-Chief of Myanmar Now, to Receive 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award

An esteemed investigative journalist and human rights defender, Swe Win is the recipient of the twentieth Shorenstein Award. He currently leads the editorial team of the independent news agency Myanmar Now from exile and his newsroom is in hiding.
Swe Win, Editor-in-Chief of Myanmar Now, to Receive 2021 Shorenstein Journalism Award
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On the Endgame podcast, Southeast Asia Program Director Donald K. Emmerson discusses the history and politics that have shaped Indonesia in the past and how that context now affects the country's position in the intensifying rivalry between China and the United States.
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Terms of Engagement: Ambassador Scot Marciel on U.S.-Southeast Asia Relations

The book Ambassador Marciel is writing at Stanford examines policy issues from the implications of the Myanmar crisis to the future of America’s relations with other Southeast Asian nations and the prospects for a U.S. strategic regional focus.
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Chinese foreign policy in Southeast Asia affects, and is affected by, the more despotic character of ASEAN’s mainland compared with its maritime member states. But the destiny of even the already undemocratic mainland portion of Southeast Asia is not—not yet at least—made in Beijing.

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Vietnam and China are frequently referred to as 'authoritarian regimes,' but in history, political practice, and social governance these two countries are starkly different. This is particularly true of how each government responds to social pressure and civil unrest. Nhu Truong, one of APARC's 2020-21 Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellows, is researching the root causes of these differences, what they reveal about the specific contexts of each nation's political trajectory, and how they can inform academic discussions of authoritarianism.

Nhu Truong’s dissertation explains how and why the two most similar communist, authoritarian regimes of China and Vietnam differ in their responsiveness to mounting unrest caused by government land seizures. Despite their many similarities, Vietnam has exhibited greater institutionalized responsiveness, whereas China has been relatively more reactive. While at APARC, Nhu has been refining 16 months of fieldwork into a book manuscript. Following her tenure as a Shorenstein Fellow at APARC, she will join the Council for Southeast Asian Studies and the Council for East Asian Studies at Yale University as a postdoctoral associate and has accepted a position as an assistant professor at Denison University starting in 2022.

Nhu sat down to talk more about her research and how the ongoing pandemic has heightened the need to better understand the ways in which different governments implement policy and address social issues. She also shares how she's stayed grounded and positive during an unusual year of change and being a long-distance fellow.

1. Can you give us an overview of your research and the topics you’re investigating?

My research addresses the following question: Why are some authoritarian regimes more responsive to social unrest than others? While it might seem counterintuitive to think of authoritarian regimes in this light, repression and responsiveness often occur in tandem under authoritarian rule. Centered on a comparison between Vietnam and China, I document the steps that each has taken to address social discontent fueled by pervasive government seizures of rural land. In response to societal input between 2003 and 2017, Vietnam enacted comprehensive and programmatic reforms to reduce the permissible scope for government land expropriation whereas those enacted by China were relatively marginal and piecemeal. At the subnational level, this difference has had important implications for land rights and the security of villagers in both countries. In summary, despite their many similarities, the manner and degree of their responsiveness have varied. My research then traces the historical origins that undergird the political development and institutional character of Vietnam and China’s divergent responsiveness to social unrest. 

2. How did you first become interested in these topics?

My interest in the repressive-responsive character of authoritarian regimes stems from my preoccupation with questions of political legitimacy, societal resistance, and institutional dynamics in authoritarian contexts. One particular experience that stoked my interest was my visit to Wukan, Guangdong in 2016. Wukan was once hailed as an emblematic case of grassroots democracy and accommodation by the Chinese state, when villagers’ outcries against the local government’s seizure of their land resulted in the re-election of the village committee in 2012. Yet, when I visited in 2016, villagers expressed that nothing had changed, and that “everything that could be done has already been done.” This experience led me to question what responsiveness means in authoritarian contexts.

3. During the last year, the world has changed significantly because of the pandemic and fluctuating politics in many nations. Have these changing global situations given you any new insights into your research?

The pandemic has underscored the need for a nuanced and contextual understanding of democracies and non-democracies. For instance, the variation in state responses to COVID-19 suggests that there is no clear correlation between responsiveness or the effectiveness of government responses to COVID-19 and regime types. Consider Vietnam’s proactive approach and success at containing the pandemic as opposed to the US. Other recent developments such as the crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Thailand and mass protests against the recent military coup in Myanmar showcase how quickly state responsiveness to social demands can erode, even in multi-party states.

4. What has your experience as one of our Shorenstein Fellows been like during this unusual period of time when we haven’t physically been together at APARC?

My fellowship has been remote, and I have therefore needed to be much more proactive to stay as engaged as possible. I have consulted with my mentor often over Zoom, and reached out to other scholars for their feedback and advice on my research. I have also especially appreciated the chance to participate in the China Social Science Workshop, where I've shared my work and learned from other presenters. Other postdoctoral fellows at APARC and I have also gotten together virtually to exchange stories and to share our experiences from this unusual year.  

5. What are some of the things you've done during this past year to give yourself a break from work and have some fun?

Due to the pandemic, I have been living back home to Austin, Texas, since March of last year. The last time that I was home for this long must have been after I graduated from college. So, for the first time in a long time, I've planted tomatoes, eggplants, and sunflowers in our garden, and I've really enjoyed watching them bloom and ripen. With everything growing, it feels like I've spent most of my break in our backyard defending our flowers, fruits, and vegetables from squirrels and bunnies! But luckily I also have our two dogs, Wishie and Sushi, to help me!

6. As the state of the pandemic changes and things in academia and our communities, what are some things you are looking forward to both professionally and personally?

I'm certainly looking forward to having conferences in person again! I'm also still not sure when it will be possible and safe for me to visit Asia again, especially Vietnam and China, but I have missed these places. I'm also learning Khmer this summer, and I'm excited to eventually visit Cambodia to pursue my research there.

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2020-21 Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellow Nhu Truong, who studies how authoritarian regimes like China and Vietnam respond to social pressure, explains why understanding differences in governance is crucial in an era of fluctuating politics and pandemic.


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As US-China competition intensifies, experts debate the degree to which the current strategic environment resembles that of the Cold War. Those that argue against the analogy often highlight how China is deeply integrated into the US-led world order. They also point out that, while tense, US-China relations have not turned overtly adversarial. But there is another, less optimistic reason the comparison is unhelpful: deterring and defeating Chinese aggression is harder now than it was against the Soviet Union. In this talk, Dr. Mastro analyzes how technology, geography, relative resources and the alliance system complicate U.S. efforts to enhance the credibility of its deterrence posture and, in a crisis, form any sort of coalition.

Photo of Oriana MastroOriana Skylar Mastro is a Center Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Within FSI, she works primarily in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) as well. She is also a fellow in Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an inaugural Wilson Center China Fellow.

Mastro is an international security expert with a focus on Chinese military and security policy issues, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. Her research addresses critical questions at the intersection of interstate conflict, great power relations, and the challenge of rising powers. She has published widely, including in Foreign Affairs, International Security, International Studies Review, Journal of Strategic Studies, The Washington Quarterly, The National Interest, Survival, and Asian Security, and is the author of The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime (Cornell University Press, 2019).

She also continues to serve in the United States Air Force Reserve, for which she works as a Strategic Planner at INDOPACOM. Prior to her appointment at Stanford in August 2020, Mastro was an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University.


American and Chinese flags
This event is part of the 2021 Winter/Spring Colloquia series, Biden’s America, Xi’s China: What’s Now & What’s Next?, sponsored by APARC's China Program.


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Oriana Skylar Mastro Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

This event is made possible by generous support from the Korea Foundation and other friends of the Korea Program.

This event is part of Shorenstein APARC's winter webinar series "Asian Politics and Policy in a Time of Uncertainty."

Judiciary independence is explicitly prescribed in the constitutions of many democracies. The courts are expected to be independent from the legislative or executive branch of the government. In practice, however, presidents can influence the judiciary by appointing judges who share political viewpoints with themselves to the highest courts. This was the case in both the Trump administration in the U.S. and the Moon administration in South Korea. Subsequently, there were several high-profile cases where the Supreme Court of South Korea made decisions on controversial and political cases in recent years, sometimes going against judicial norms and practices. In this panel, three legal scholars discuss these cases and the implications of the politicization of the judiciary for democracy in South Korea, and comparatively with the U.S.


Tom Ginsburg

Tom Ginsburg is the Leo Spitz Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago, where he also holds an appointment in the Political Science Department. He holds B.A., J.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. He currently co-directs the Comparative Constitutions Project, an NSF-funded data set cataloging the world’s constitutions since 1789, that runs the award-winning Constitute website.  His latest book is How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (2018, with Aziz Huq), which won the Best Book Award from the International Society for Constitutional Law, and his other books include Judicial Reputation: A Comparative Theory (2015) (with Nuno Garoupa); The Endurance of National Constitutions (2009) (with Zachary Elkins and James Melton)which won the best book award from Comparative Democratization Section of American Political Science Association; and Judicial Review in New Democracies (2003), winner of the C. Herman Pritchett Award from APSA. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Before entering law teaching, he served as a legal advisor at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, The Hague, Netherlands, and he has consulted with numerous international development agencies and governments on legal and constitutional reform. He currently serves a senior advisor on Constitution Building to International IDEA.

Seongwook Heo

Seongwook Heo is a professor of public law at Seoul National University Law School. He teaches administrative law, environmental law, and law and economics. He received his Ph.D. in law and L.L.M., and bachelor's degree in economics, all from Seoul National University. His research interests include topics of economic regulations with analytic tools of economics. Recently he is mostly interested in laws concerning climate change, energy, food safety, IT & privacy, and judicial system. Prior to joining the SNU Law School in 2006, he had served as a judge of Seoul Central District Court in Korea. He was a presiding judge of a specialized panel for the intellectual property law cases in the Seoul Central District Court from 2005 to 2006. He is currently a board member of the Korean Public Law Association, the Korean Environmental Law Association, the Korean Law and Economics Association, and the Korean Regulation Law Association

Julie Suk

Julie C. Suk is a Florence Rogatz Visiting Professor of Law (fall term) and research scholar at Yale Law School and professor of sociology & political science at The Graduate Center of City University of New York. She has a J.D. from Yale Law School, where she studied on a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and a D.Phil. in Politics from Oxford University, where she held a Marshall Scholarship. Suk is an interdisciplinary legal scholar, focusing on women as constitution-makers at the intersection of law, history, sociology, and politics. Her broader research interests include constitutional and social change; antidiscrimination law and its effects on social inequality; women, work, and family; civil litigation as an enforcement mechanism for public law; access to justice, including the past and future role of nonlawyers in solving the civil justice problems of poor and middle-income people; social, political, and legal theory; and law and literature. Her 2020 book, We the Women: The Unstoppable Mothers of the Equal Rights Amendmentexplores the ERA’s past to guide its future, telling the stories of the forgotten women lawmakers and lawyers who shaped the ERA over a century. She is a frequent commentator in the media on legal issues affecting women, including The New York TimesThe Washington Post, Bloomberg Law, Vox, and CBS News.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Yong Suk Lee, the SK Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and deputy director of the Korea Program at Stanford's Shorenstein APARC.


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Tom Ginsburg
Seongwook Heo
Julie C. Suk
Panel Discussions
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