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Institute of Peace and Conflict studies reviews “South and Southeast Asia”

by Tuli Sinha, Research Officer SEARP, IPCS
Link to original website

This book marks the success of the initiative taken by two extremely renowned research institutes of India and Southeast Asia. The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and Observer Research Foundation (ORF) assembled in Singapore to discuss the crucial issues emerging in South and Southeast Asia. The first Dialogue was held in New Delhi in 2006 and it focused on the Political and Security Dynamics of South and Southeast Asia. This book is the culmination of papers presented in the second Dialogue held in Singapore in 2009, which concentrated on Changing Geo-Political and Security Challenges in South and Southeast Asia. With a world engulfed in the aftermaths of financial meltdown and the uncertainty pertaining to the future trajectory of Asian geo politics and Asian regionalism, the dialogue efficiently selected themes to suit the changing power dynamics in South and Southeast Asia.

The book is divided across five major themes. First, on Major Power Dynamics in South and Southeast Asia, this incorporates the works of Dilip Lahiri and Daljit Singh regarding these two regions. The two essays examine the shifts in the dynamics of the super power relations in India and Southeast Asia. The changing role of the United States and China is explained in the context of end of Cold War and present day scenario in both the regions. Also, an effort is made to predict the future conflict or conditions of a peaceful co-existence among the super powers in the Asia-Pacific.

The second theme focuses on the Rise of Asian Maritime Power and its Implications on Southeast Asia. This section contains essays by Vijay Sakhuja and Admiral P S Das, which gives a detailed account of the rising Chinese naval strength and Indian concerns on maritime security issues. Their work brings forth the direct implication of a strong Chinese naval base for Southeast Asia and India. The phenomenal rise of China as a regional power in terms of maritime might is a matter of concern for Southeast Asian and Indian security as the seas are and have always been the fundamental source of trade and energy explorations.

The third section of the book deals with Security Issues in Southeast Asia by Ian Storey, Carlyle A Thayer and K Yhome. These works revolve around the central issues of concern in Southeast Asian context. The South China Sea Dispute is examined in context of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties.  The other chapter in the section is on Myanmar, which is one of the most dynamic and strategically located countries of Southeast Asia. The chapter argues that given the context of rising geo strategic importance of the region, it becomes imperative to assess the current situation and the future prospects of Myanmar in particular. With unlimited avenues of energy and other economic and commercial opportunities, this region is eventually looked upon as the hub of economic activities by the external powers. Despite prolonged conditions of political turmoil and instability, the region has managed to carve a niche in the eyes of China and the United States for future engagements which is highly commendable.

The fourth theme deals with the Evolving Asian Regionalism and comprises essays by Rodolfo C. Severino and K V Kesavan. These works primarily discuss the role of regional institutions amidst the rise of East Asian regionalism and India’s position. They have exquisitely explained the formation and significance of ASEAN and its several offshoots that have emerged over the years. There is also a detailed mention of the concept of Look East Policy of India and its future with regards to maritime and nuclear security concerns.

Finally, the last theme assesses the extremely recent and most critical concern of the world through the chapter on Non-Traditional Security Challenge: Climate Change; it assesses the implications for South and Southeast Asia. This section incorporates the works of Lee Pon Onn and Samir Saran, which presents an extensive account of climate change and issues regarding globalization. Amidst the nuances of the Copenhagen Summit held in 2009 and rising concerns about climate, this chapter holds great significance and is central to the title of the book. Besides climate change, several other significant issues such as water, agriculture, forestry and health in the regions have also received deserved attention.

Summing up, the book is an excellent amalgamation of issues of strategic importance to South and Southeast Asia in the current geopolitical scene. The strength is in coherent showcasing of diverse viewpoints of the scholars from both the regions of South and Southeast Asia. The work stresses upon the major power shifts in this region, in context to the super power relations in the region. Collectively these eminent scholars have discussed the probable effects of such a power shift in varied sectors of Asia-Pacific. The essays forcefully bring forth the argument of an increasing cooperation between India and Southeast Asia validating the notion of the successful India’s Look East Policy. The identification of the themes is deft and presents a detailed historical background to each study to forge better understanding. With regard to the recent developments in Traditional and Non-Traditional security aspects, the work unravels the myriad connotations of several initiatives in the area of climate change, energy security, terrorism and water and further examines the future role and prospects in the region.

Though the book impressively portrays the crucial issues of concern in both the regions, it has certain limitations. First, the book tends to focus on the United States and China relations in South and Southeast Asia and comes across as a China centric study. Second, several other countries as Indonesia, Thailand of this region have not received a thorough engagement in the work. It merely discusses the case of Myanmar, India and ASEAN as other countries have been bypassed. Third, the sporadic reference to terrorism, nuclear proliferation and energy in particular, is unable to do justice to such issues of vital concern in history as well as in years to come.  Further, though every essay provides a detailed explanation of changing geopolitical and strategic security challenges, they fail to raise abundant burning questions regarding the future possibilities and prospects of the same. Also, the inclusion of theoretical base to the study of power play in Southeast Asia and India would have enhanced the qualitative dimension.

This combined effort of such expert scholars and K V Kesavan and Daljit Singh in particular, as the editors, is certainly an asset to the available literature on geostrategic issues for scholars and researchers in the relevant field. It provides an excellent assessment of the super power play in the regions and how it has paved the way for several opportunities and challenges simultaneously. It is gratifying to note the various global, regional and inter-regional initiatives that have been started in order to address security concerns and the efforts being made in numerous dimensions, aptly dealt with in the essays of this volume. This book is definitely among the best works in the subject which discusses different regional perspectives on the dynamic geopolitical scenario in South and Southeast Asia and adds to the existing facts as well as sets the base for further research work in years to come.


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