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    Event Reports

    ISAS Seminar: 02 May 2019

    Topic : How India Manages It's National Security

    Speaker(s) : Dr Arvind Gupta


    ISAS Panel Discussion: 25 April 2019

    Topic : Peace in Afghanistan - A New Dawn or False Hope?

    Speaker(s) : Dr Nasir A Andisha, Professor William Maley, Mr David Samuel Sedney


    ISAS Book Launch and Panel Discussion: 17 April 2019

    Topic : India’s Eastward Engagement : From Antiquity to Act East Policy

    Speaker(s) : Professor S D Muni, Professor C Raja Mohan, Mr K Kesavapany


    ISEAS-ISAS Panel Discussion: 09 April 2019

    Topic : India and Indonesia in the Indo-Pacific

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISEAS-ISAS Roundtable: Indonesia and India – Constructing a Maritime Partnership: 09 April 2019

    Topic : Indonesia and India - Constructing a Maritime Partnership

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS Ambassadors’ Lecture: 28 March 2019

    Topic : Moscow’s Pivot to Asia: Russia and the Indo-Pacific

    Speaker(s) : Andrey Tatarinov, Russian Ambassador to Singapore


    Joint ISAS-Asia Foundation Symposium: 26 March 2019

    Topic : Trump and Modi : India-US Burden-Sharing in the Indo-Pacific

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    Joint ISAS-Asia Foundation Panel Discussion : The United States and India in a Turbulent World: 25 March 2019

    Topic : The United States and India in a Turbulent World

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS Closed Door Roundtable: 25 March 2019

    Topic : China’s Naval Strategy in the Indo-Pacific and the Regional Responses

    Speaker(s) : Dr Ashley J Tellis


    ISAS Closed Door Session: 01 March 2019

    Topic : War and Peace in South Asia: New Developments in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan

    Speaker(s) : Dr S Jaishankar


    ISAS-RSIS Joint Workshop: 28 February 2019

    Topic : India – Rising Power in an Age of Uncertainty

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS-ORF Panel Discussion: 27 February 2019

    Topic : Reconnecting South and Southeast Asia: Return of the Bay of Bengal Region

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    Inaugurating the panel discussion on the historical and contemporary significance of the Bay of Bengal for connecting South and Southeast Asia in an ORF-ISAS Panel at ORF, Kolkata on 27 February, Professor Tan Tai Yong, President and Professor of Humanities (History) of the Yale-NUS College, National University of Singapore, recounted the importance of the Bay of Bengal region in connecting India and Southeast Asia. He said, historically the Bay of Bengal has been the point of connection between India and Southeast Asia and that, trade, ideas and people freely moved back and forth. But after the rise of nation-states in the Bay of Bengal, the states, became inward looking producing a gulf instead of a bridge between them.

    Today, the powers in the region, including China, India and the ASEAN, want to re-connect; hence, it is important to see how the Bay can be reconstituted as a zone bringing together the two geo-political areas. Apart from traditional security issues, environmental challenges and refugee concerns are shared problems inviting cooperation in the Bay.

    Professor Rakhahari Chatterji, Advisor, ORF Kolkata, chairing the Panel, said that the words ‘Reconnect’ and ‘Return’ assume that there was a past we want to resurrect without of course trying to repeat it. The past needs to be recollected to serve as a guiding light for the present and for reimagining the future. Based on such a constructive engagement with the past we need to examine the appropriateness of the trade, connectivity and strategic architecture we are building at present.

    Dr. Ronojoy Sen, Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (ISAS-NUS), discussed the history of connectivity that existed in pre-colonial and colonial era. The history of the Bay of Bengal region can be viewed through the prism of three significant broad-based themes, he suggested.

    First, trade has historically facilitated deep and continuous interaction amongst people across the Bay of Bengal region. Since, the 6th century A.D., the records of trade in spices and textiles between Southeast Asia and Bengal can be found. Robust trade relations also enabled dissemination of religious beliefs and customs in the region.

    Second, imperial ambitions have had a pivotal impact in fostering greater integration of the Bay of Bengal region. The Pallava and Chola dynasties of Southern India and subsequently, the Portuguese and the British imperial power established their economic suzerainty in the region by initiating vibrant trade activities.

    Thirdly, the movement of people across the Bay gave considerable impetus to the integration of the Bay of Bengal region. The massive flow of people in the region can be traced from the 19th Century that coincides with the introduction of steam ships and the emergence of steam navigation companies.

    Studies of interaction in the region are now once again being revived through renewed strategic and economic relations.

    Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Director, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata argued that a holistic approach in assessing the impacts of Free Trade Agreements (FTA), especially from the point-of-view of global value chains, needs to be adopted for boosting fair trade. India signed FTA’s assuming that such arrangements would open new areas for innovation, employment and investment. However, as Indian official databases have gone on to show, these trade agreements have largely benefitted India’s trade partners with an increase in India’s trade deficit.

    Dr. Ghosh suggested that mere trade balance figures must not guide India’s trade agreements with her Southeast Asian neighbours. As a result of cheaper imports, consumers have largely gained, known in economic terms as ‘consumer surplus.’ Producers, on the other hand, have suffered due to these FTAs. Inflow of better quality and cheaper goods has reduced the competitiveness of the domestic producers and they have expressed their ire against such agreements.

    Complementarities between trading partners play a key role and emphasis should be laid on exploiting them. Only then will trade make everyone ‘better off’. Unlike the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is fraught with its own complexities, the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN-MVA) represents a better arena where regional integration can enjoy some success. It has a higher probability of achieving fiscal and monetary integration with a common market and a common currency. This will lead to development of the entire region by way of ensuring food security, employment opportunities and a larger market among other benefits.

    Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, Senior Fellow, ORF discussed the significance of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) corridor as a hinterland of the Bay of Bengal and its potential for harnessing the dynamic economic prospects of the region. According to Dr. Basu Ray Chaudhury, the Bay of Bengal appears to be the most feasible and congenial option of connecting the nations that surround it, through mutually shared interests of growth and development. Three important ideas have been forwarded in this regard. First, the proper utilization of the land routes through roadways and highways, second identifying the vitality of the inland waterways and third, making proper use of the sea ports. Such transport corridors hold within themselves the immense potential of nurturing the true essence of the Bay.

    Although many efforts have been seen in this regard, there is still a lot that remains undone, Dr. Basu Ray Chaudhury, said. She called for the need of developing proper infrastructure and protocol routes and efficiency of the actions.

    Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Director, ISAS-NUS argued that physical or geographical proximity neither guarantees trade, nor strategic partnership. South Asia is a glaring example of this phenomenon. Instead of physical proximity, the political situation of the countries in question matters. For example, closing the market by Chairman Mao Zedong in China and Jawaharlal Nehru in India and their negative effects on the trade situation of both countries are results of the political environment and resultant decisions taken by the respective leaders.

    According to Dr. Raja Mohan, India has missed the opportunity when it had the scope to build a robust trade and strategic partnership with littorals in the Bay of Bengal after the latter’s independence. Only after liberalization of her economy in1991 has India engaged strategically by undertaking joint military exercises with Bay littorals making her presence felt in the region. Discussing the rise of China in the Bay of Bengal, Dr. Raja Mohan said that China has been following the colonial example of creating exclusive trading posts at strategic locations around the Bay like Sitwe, Kaladan etc. They have also been investing in pipelines for oil and gas supply and in other communication pathways as well. This is working as a back bone for China’s rapidly growing military presence in the region.

    Secondly, the retreat of US military from the region will create a vacuum that China seems very eager to fill in and Japan seems to take an interest as well. Realignment of strategic relations between USA and her allies like Thailand and Philippines is further encouraging the latter to drift towards China.

    The situation in the Bay presents new strategic opportunities for India as well and India seems to be on track with the Bay littorals as expressed through her settling border issues with Bangladesh and organizing joint naval exercises with Thailand. However, she needs more meaningful presence in the Bay. Given the transformation in the once strategically tranquil Bay of Bengal region into a contested zone, India, must retain some strong allies with her if she wants to be up front in the contest.

    The report is compiled by Mihir Bhonsale with inputs from Dr. Jaya Thakur, Sohini Bose, Sohini Nayak, Ambar Kumar Ghosh and Roshan SahaI

    Victoria Memorial Hall-ISAS Public Lecture : A Tale of Two Cities – Singapore and Calcutta, Past and Present: 26 February 2019

    Topic : Victoria Memorial Hall-ISAS Public Lecture

    Speaker(s) : Professor Tan Tai Yong, President Yale-NUS College; Deputy Chairman ISAS


    ISAS Closed Door Roundtable: 20 February 2019

    Topic : Between South and Southeast Asia: Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Case for a New Regional Framework

    Speaker(s) : Dr Michael Vatikiotis


    Liberalisation Sans Liberalism: The Dilemmas of Higher Education in India: 31 January 2019

    Topic : ISAS-SASP Seminar

    Speaker(s) : Dr Devesh Kapur


    ISAS Seminar: 28 January 2019

    Topic : The Dragon and the Elephant: Sino-Indian Relations in the Era of Modi and Xi

    Speaker(s) : Professor Yuan Jingdong, Visiting Research Fellow, East Asian Institute, NUS


    ISAS Seminar: 24 January 2019

    Topic : The Domestic Implications of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for Pakistan

    Speaker(s) : Professor Katharine Adeney, University of Nottingham


    ISAS Panel Discussion: 21 January 2019

    Topic : Sri Lanka at Crossroads: Geopolitical Challenges and National Interests

    Speaker(s) : Mr Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Director General, INSSSL Sri Lanka, Dr Chulanee Attanayake, Dr Amitendu Palit


    Joint SASP-ISAS Seminar: 10 January 2019

    Topic : Nationalism as a Democratic and Authoritarian Resource: Lessons from India, Myanmar and Malaysia

    Speaker(s) : Dr Maya Tudor, Fellow, Stanford University


    ISAS Closed Door Session: 08 January 2019

    Topic : The India Economic Strategy 2035

    Speaker(s) : Ambassador Peter N Varghese AO


    ISAS Closed Door Roundtable: 28 December 2018

    Topic : Redesigning Policy Making in the 4th Industrial Revolution through Agile Governance

    Speaker(s) : Mr Nara Lokesh, Minister for Information Technology, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, Andhra Pradesh, India


    The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by rapid, simultaneous and systemic transformations driven by unprecedented impacts from the pace, scale and scope of emerging technologies. In addition, global challenges of climate change, demographic changes and declining trust in institutions are together challenging established governance models and mind-sets. New principles, protocols, rules and policies are needed to accelerate the positive and inclusive impacts of innovation and technologies, while minimizing or eliminating negative consequences and risks. There is an urgent need for a faster, more agile approach to governing emerging technologies and the business models and social interaction structures they enable. Minister Lokesh shall present the platforms used for Realtime Governance in the state of Andhra Pradesh and use of agile government tools for better governance.

    ISAS Roundtable: 05 December 2018

    Topic : Digital Politics: Emerging Trends in South and Southeast Asia

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS organised a roundtable on ‘Digital Politics: Emerging Trends in South and Southeast Asia’ on 5 December 2018 at the NUSS Guild House. The roundtable saw 21 distinguished guests share their views about recent events and key topics in the field of digital politics. The opening address was given by Philip Chua, Global Lead for Government and Elections at Twitter. He said that any mistruths circulated online would beg the question on citizen media literacy. He also highlighted the importance of focussing less on the content being circulated online. Rather, he suggested looking into how information is disseminated and how individuals behave online. This theme of targeting behaviour rather than content underpinned the discussions that followed. Chua concluded with an open-ended statement on the trade-off between having open conversations online and not curbing the freedom of expression. The roundtable began by noting the recent International Grand Committee meeting in the UK on fake news and disinformation, and its implication on Singapore’s deliberations on the issue. Subsequently, the importance of viewing technology as an enabler and as a solution was highlighted. Questions on whether there were any new artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques that could help address content and identify bad actors were raised, as was the issue of how other mediums of social media, such as images, videos and memes, could be regulated. On legislation, the participants emphasised that there could be no single actor serving as an arbiter of truth but rather a multitude of credible actors was necessary. They raised the issue of the impact of legislation on creativity due to the lack of resources to ensure accuracy. This extended to concerns about small media platforms and their future potential. The speakers dwelt on the importance of ensuring democracy despite regulation. There were fears of using regulation for political purposes and apprehensions on the lack of a level playing field for women and marginalised groups to express their opinions. This brought up the question of whether specific or broad laws would be more useful in encouraging self-censorship. The session concluded by reiterating the broader theme of constant evolution in this field and the importance of recognising that regulations operate differently in different ecosystems.

    Narendra Modi’s Religious Diplomacy and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy: 03 December 2018

    Topic : ISAS Seminar

    Speaker(s) : Professor Ian Hall


    Professor Ian Hall teaches International Relations at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia, and is the Deputy Director (Research) of the Griffith Asia Institute was invited to ISAS for a Seminar on the topic ‘Narendra Modi’s Religious Diplomacy and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy’ as he is currently publishing an upcoming book on Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy. This session was moderated by Professor C. Raja Mohan, Director of Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS). Director C. Raja Mohan opened the seminar by introducing the topic to the audience and said Modi’s Foreign Policy has been widely discussed but there has been less discussion on the aspect of religious diplomacy. The participants comprised of ISAS research staff and members of the public. Prof Ian Hall began his talk with a picture from World Cultural Festival organised by the spiritual/religious organisation Art of Living inaugurated by PM Modi last year. He stated that the event such as this, with over 750 key politicians across the world present, promotes India’s soft power under the theme “One World Family”. Prof Ian then outlined the five pillars of PM Modi’s foreign policy strategy according to Ram Madhav, who drafted the BJP’s 2015 policy document. These are samriddhi (economic prosperity), suraksha (national security), samman (upholding the dignity and honour of Indian citizens and expats), samvad (dialogue and engagement), and sanskriti (culture and civilizational links). He observed the fifth pillar sanskriti is used extensively in PM Modi’s foreign policy. He observed that PM Modi made the cultural references on global stage such as the Shangri-La Dialogue. This means the approach of viewing the world is based on culture-culture than society-society. On the topic of public diplomacy, Professor Ian Hall observed there has been a rise in campaigns to engage more deeply with the public under the Modi government. While the last three governments have all engaged in public diplomacy and soft power campaigns such as Incredible India, the Modi government went one step further by using other means to engage in public diplomacy such as PM Modi himself promoting yoga, using Twitter effectively and holding radio shows to engage with the public. Prof Hall noted PM Modi’s increasing emphasis on cultural and religious ties. PM Modi’s visits to religious sites in Sri Lanka, Buddhist temples in Nepal and mosques in the Arab countries are to emphasise past cultural, intellectual and religious ties. This is part of the Modi government’s emphasis on civil-society diplomatic activities, mostly using India’s diaspora as a quasi-diplomatic tool. The constant cultural engagement is to protect diaspora interests. Prof Hall concluded with Modi’s reinvention of foreign policy outlined in two aspects: a) dropping the Nehruvian idea of foreign policy, b) foreign policy sought through Hindu ideology with religious diplomacy at the centre. Although foreign policy may not help PM Modi win domestic elections, it will certainly create a perception of global leadership among the Indian citizens. Prof Hall’s remarks were followed by a Question and Answer session with the audience. Prof Hall fielded questions on soft power, the concept of religion and state being merged and instrumentalising religion for the purpose of foreign policy and diplomacy.

    ISAS Workshop: 28 November 2018

    Topic : Maritime Sri Lanka: Reclaiming Indian Ocean Security

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    A full day workshop titled ‘Maritime Sri Lanka: Reclaiming Indian Ocean Identity’ was held on 28 November 2018. Organised by ISAS, the workshop saw a range of speakers discussing the historical, strategic and economic aspects of Sri Lanka’s Indian Ocean identity. ISAS Director Professor C Raja Mohan made the opening remarks where he said that Sri Lanka is in the focus and is going to be an important part of the world. There has been much discussion lately on how Sri Lanka is an Indian Ocean rather than a South Asian state. The keynote address was given by Professor Mohan Munasinghe via a video recording where he shared that Sri Lanka is reclaiming instead of transforming its Indian Ocean identity. He then explored how Sri Lanka is one the first countries to embark on the Balanced Inclusive Green Growth (BIGG) Path. Colombo wants to be a dynamic and thriving Indian Ocean hub by 2030. After the keynote address, was the first panel titled ‘Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’ which discussed the paradigm shifts, strategic realities and shifting of power in Sri Lanka. This panel also explored how Colombo has been developing its maritime identity after the civil war. The sea is seen as integral to its national consciousness. The end of the civil war opened new political avenues for Sri Lanka to rebuild its image. The second panel titled ‘Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean: Geopolitical Imperatives’ saw discussions on the strategic placement of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Post-independent Sri Lanka helped it to have a clear stand in its foreign policy initiatives. However, a rules-based order is important for small states like Sri Lanka. There was a general consensus that Sri Lanka will become a significant player in the ocean. The third panel titled ‘Sri Lanka as an Economic Hub: Issues and Prospects’ saw conversations on the Indian Ocean economy, policy challenges, diplomacy initiatives and the country’s domestic and regional performance.

    ISAS Closed Door Session: 23 November 2018

    Topic : Accountability of Institutions in India: The Case of the RBI and the CBI

    Speaker(s) : Dr S Narayan, Dr Duvurri Subbarao, Mr Vinod Rai


    Atlantic Council-ISAS Symposium: 20 November 2018

    Topic : Analysing the United States’ Vision for the Indo-Pacific

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS organised a symposium on ‘Analysing the United States’ Vision for the Indo-Pacific’ in partnership with the Atlantic Council on 20 November 2018. The panellists for the symposium were Professor C Raja Mohan, Director, ISAS; Dr Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Centre; Dr Matthew Kroenig, Deputy Director for Strategy at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security; and Dr Rani Mullen, Visiting Research Fellow, ISAS.The symposium began with welcome remarks by Dr Gopalaswamy and Professor Mohan. Dr Kroenig presented a brief history of the Council. He then spoke about the America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) vision, how this vision is different from before, and the specifics of the vision. Following Dr Kroenig’s presentation, Dr Gopalaswamy’s remarks focused on the US American pivot to Asia, the areas of focus such as commerce, infrastructure and energy, and the private sector focus of the vision. In her remarks, Dr Mullen questioned whether the new American vision and investment would be able to meet the challenge of competing in the region with China and ASEAN’s response to the competition. The remarks by the panellists were followed by an interactive discussion with the audience. The points of discussion included the difference between the FOIP and the Washington Consensus, inclusive development as part of the American vision, South Asia’s role in the Indo-Pacific, the sustainability of the Indo-Pacific without India, the pressure and implications of Sino-US competition on ASEAN, the commitment of India to the Indo-Pacific, impact of US disengagement on the federal American structure, and the historical context for Indo-Pacific rivalry.

    Atlantic Council-ISAS Roundtable: 19 November 2018

    Topic : Emerging Technology, Shifting Power Balances and Nuclear Stability

    Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


    ISAS organised a symposium on ‘Emerging Technologies, Shifting Balances of Power, and Nuclear Stability’ in partnership with the Atlantic Council on 19 November 2018. The roundtable included experts from the United States, China, Russia, India, and Japan. The symposium began with opening remarks by Professor C Raja Mohan, Director, ISAS. Dr Matthew Kroenig, Deputy Director for Strategy at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security presented a brief history of the Council and then presented on the Council’s project on how emerging technology could affect nuclear stability. The presentation listed emerging technologies (including their capabilities and implications), critiques and defences of the conventional wisdom, and they hypothesis that emerging technology’s effect of the broader balance of power is a greater risk to strategic stability.Following Dr Kroenig’s presentation, the participants discussed the topic in the context of four different themes: evaluating the conventional wisdom on emerging technology and strategic stability, the state of play of emerging technologies, the geopolitical context and flashpoints, and policy implications for arms control, non-proliferation and exports control. Three experts presented in each thematic session followed by an interactive discussion between the roundtable on the theme. The discussions on the first theme covered points of discussion such as the stabilising effect of arms races, the ‘layers’ of strategic stability and its nature, and non-rational use of technology. The second thematic session covered points such as new and conventional weapons capabilities and their impact, the challenges and uses of new technologies, and competition in technologies between different countries. In the third session, the experts discussed technologies in the context of geopolitical flashpoints such as South Asia, the ‘grey zone’, and great powers like Russia, China and the US. The final session considered policy implications related to arms control, a ‘cascading’ security dilemma, the possibility of a non-proliferation treaty (NPT) type arrangement for weapons, and codes of conduct.

    ISAS Panel Discussion and Book Launch: 30 October 2018

    Topic : Do Welfare Policies lead to Development? – The Tamil Nadu Experience

    Speaker(s) : Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, Dr S Narayan, Mr N Ravi, Mr R Pooranalingam, Mrs Vanitha Dalta,


    Switzerland in Asia: Burgeoning Links with South Asia and ASEAN: 30 October 2018

    Topic : ISAS Ambassadors' Lecture Series

    Speaker(s) : Ambassador Fabrice Filliez


    Dr Iftekhar Chowdhury, principal research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS and former foreign minister of Bangladesh, chaired the session titled, ‘Switzerland in Asia: Burgeoning Links with South Asia and ASEAN’. He opened the session by highlighting the critical role that Switzerland plays as an international actor, contributing to stability, peace and progress in the region and the world. Dr Chowdhury lauded Switzerland for remaining a constructive place for situating international institutions and also the ability of the Swiss to enable dialogue between conflicting parties, as in the Gorbachev-Reagan Dialogue. Ambassador Fabrice Filliez described Switzerland’s relationship with ASEAN followed by Switzerland’s relationship with South Asia. On ASEAN, he mentioned the international cooperation activities that Switzerland has been pursuing in ASEAN, such as improving the living conditions of ASEAN people, reducing development gaps and providing humanitarian engagement. He sectioned Switzerland-ASEAN cooperation into 4 parts: climate change and disaster risk reduction, human security, vocational training and food security. He shared that there have been 26 projects, amounting to 7 million USD in these domains. On India, he celebrated the 70th anniversary since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries. He also brought up the salient issue on cooperation with India on tax investigation, allowing automatic information exchange between the two countries. He also shared on the good relationship that Switzerland has had with Pakistan through investment protection, double taxation and disaster relief, with Bangladesh through poverty reduction, direct investment and development cooperation, and with Sri Lanka through reforms, reconciliation, investment protection and humanitarian assistance. Key questions that arose were regarding Switzerland’s view on referendums and tips on how the implementation of vocational institutes vis-à-vis university education was so successful in Switzerland. On the former, he answered that an educated population who are capable of practicing direct democracy was needed. On the latter, he shared the importance of acknowledging positive contribution to society and growth of the sector rather than the company alone.

    ISAS-CII Distinguished Lecture 2018: 29 October 2018

    Topic : Higher Education in Singapore

    Speaker(s) : Professor Tan Eng Chye, Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, Mr N Kumar, Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi