Southeast Asian integration, changing tides

Researchers studied Southeast Asian integration processes at national and regional levels in the hope of better understanding the dynamics of difference and, with that, new pathways to inclusion in various social, historical, ethno-cultural, political and geographical contexts. The conclusion: Europe has a lot to offer (and gain from) Southeast Asia in terms experience and lessons learned on social integration and diversity.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 29 January 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Cultural Heritage
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Social sciences and humanities
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Estonia  |  France  |  Germany  |  Indonesia  |  Italy  |  Malaysia  |  Thailand  |  United Kingdom  |  Vietnam
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Southeast Asian integration, changing tides

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© DragonImages #115848763 2019, source:stock.adobe.com

Southeast Asia (SEA) is a vibrant region of 600 million people and a pivotal economic and political partner to Europe in such things as trade and security, but also in meeting major international commitments to the environment, sustainable development and regional cooperation. The European Union’s counterpart in multilateral areas is an ambitious regional integration experiment called the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

“The differences between Europe and SEA are many, yet both regions have much to learn from each other,” says the project’s scientific coordinator, Andrew Hardy of Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), “but Europe’s knowledge of SEA does not always reflect that region’s geopolitical importance.”

This knowledge gap led to the creation of SEATIDE, a collaborative project which delved into the subject of integration in Southeast Asia, the trajectories of inclusion and dynamics of exclusion. Led by EFEO in France, the research included experts from Germany, Estonia, Italy, and the UK working together with counterparts in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Teams studied ASEAN integration processes at national and regional levels, and examined how such processes affected social, economic and political transformations.

Prompted by the starter question, ‘In integrative processes, who is excluded?’, SEATIDE investigated what ASEAN had achieved and where it comes up short, in particular regarding border issues, the “winners and losers” in processes of integration, and wider concerns over marginalisation. A ‘grass-roots’ approach, combining studies in anthropology, sociology and history, brought new perspectives to integration imperatives facing both EU and ASEAN regions.

Indeed, as SEATIDE’s final report points out: “The ASEAN framework is not the whole story or only narrative of integration in the region … ASEAN’s role in the construction of a SEA identity is an essential part of the region’s future integration at the grass-roots level.”

National, transnational and regional integration were studied from the perspectives of diversity (political and cultural identities in national and regional frameworks), prosperity (frameworks and practices of mobility and work), knowledge (localisation of imported technology and models of development), and security (the impact of interdependent political communities on human security). All findings were analysed through the prism of how (dis)integration or fragmentation threatens human development and security.

From how to now …

Rapid and unprecedented change in the region has had deep consequences for rural and urban populations alike, according to the team in its final report, which documents examples of where social integration has been pushed to the limit, including highly publicised cases in Myanmar, but also lesser-known examples of marginalisation and struggles among minorities and the rural poor in SEA.

“Partners were able to learn from the experiences of others in the region – but also interestingly from Europe, which has faced its own social (re)integration challenges after the Cold War and more recent refugee crisis – and take onboard best practices that could work in their situation,” explains Hardy. For this, partners on the ground in SEA were critical.

Working in strategic countries in the region (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), the project’s 50 researchers’ main concern was to identify the exclusions that necessarily accompany processes of integration. These were analysed at different so-called ‘sites of interaction’, including cities, towns, villages, peri-urban areas, culturally significant regions, border areas, but also in government settings and other collective places like schools.

For example, researchers from Chiang Mai University (CMU) examined the dynamics of regional integration in the context of Thailand’s northern region and shared the results with project partners through regular meetings and research workshops in what has become a sustainable Euro-Southeast Asian scientific network, according to the CMU team. Their findings have also been disseminated online in papers, academic articles and book chapters concerning identities and integration in Southeast Asia. One such volume documented the issue of statelessness and the paradox of national integration in Thailand, religious movements in the Thai-Myanmar borderland and on Thailand’s muslim populations.

“These actions enhanced the visibility of our research on the way development impacts local livelihoods at the international level, and also to relevant stakeholders and the larger public,” confirms the Thai team.

The wider results were shared with stakeholders and policy-makers through briefings, fora and other channels (see the project website). One such country briefing, organised at the Southeast Asia division of the EU’s European External Action Service, focused on finding long-term solutions to Thailand’s current political crisis, demographic challenges to economic development, and the issue of refugees in the country.

Other book titles associated with the project cover such topics as Work and mobility in Southeast Asia, and Dreams of prosperity and experiences of inequality in the process of integration in SEA. Numerous films and documentaries were also inspired by the project covering topics ranging from how villagers in West Cambodia reintegrated those who had fled during the genocide, to the plight of Karen ethnic minority refugees in northern Thailand (Inside the Fence).

These and other creative forms of dissemination had a powerful impact and were well received, according to the project team. One direct result of SEATIDE was the creation of a professorship in Southeast Asian studies at the University of Tallinn, which is reinforcing the research and teaching capacity on SEA in Estonia.

Enduring cooperation, a macro-result

Hardy echoes the Thai team’s experience: “We succeeded in creating an enduring international research network which has been critical in fostering dialogue between researchers, stakeholders and policy-makers in a field dominated by political scientists and economists.”

Further evidence of SEATIDE’s long-term impact since concluding is the fact that five of the leading research institutions in the project have formed a new consortium (CRISEA) which has won Horizon 2020 backing to explore, at a micro- and macro-level, the multiple forces affecting regional integration in SEA, and the challenges they present to its peoples, and to its regional institutional framework, ASEAN.

“This success was really built on specific expertise in the topic, extensive connections to the region, and proven capacity to lead EU projects,” concludes SEATIDE’s coordinator.

Project details

  • Project acronym: SEATIDE
  • Participants: France (Coordinator), Germany, UK, Estonia, Italy, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam
  • Project N°: 320221
  • Total costs: € 3 049 104
  • EU contribution: € 2 415 071
  • Duration: December 2012 to 31 March 2016

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