In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech with this quote: ‘There is a Chinese curse which says “May we live in interesting times”. Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.‘
Today, in interesting times we live indeed. Donald Trump’s retreat from multilateralism and fierce confrontation with China is changing the political and economic landscape in the Asia-Pacific. Southeast Asia is caught in the middle, facing many challenges and risks. But we are at least forced to look ahead and be creative – and that is what RISE tries to do in this special issue, exceptionally in English.
Start with the concept of hedging. Is it a response to a perceived security risk or to an imminent threat? Depending on the answer, we can understand the behavior of ASEAN countries, some of them torn between an economic partnership with China and an increased political outreach to the United States. Then move to trade issues. Historically, Southeast Asia has been at the center of global political economy since the age of discoveries. If the global trade regime shows some faultlines, can these economies continue to thrive? At last, some of them could be the real beneficiaries of the China-U.S. trade war, and there are chances to overcome the ‘middle-income trap,’ if certain conditions are met. China’s Belt and Road Initiative can also become an opportunity, especially for public-private partnerships. And – as the official statement of the Thai Foreign Minister, currently holding the ASEAN chairmanship, shows – the fight against climate change is an area where Southeast Asia can be creative.
On the occasion of the TO-ASEAN Business Days 2019 in Turin, RISE welcomes a special section hosting the views on bilateral relationships with Italy offered by the Ambassadors of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. Will these nations be creative enough to sustain ‘the ASEAN miracle’? Find it out by reading the book by Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffery Sng reviewed in the final column.