EVENT: Policy Forum on Understanding the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework and China's role in the Mekong region

On 3 September 2018, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) and the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University hosted a policy forum discussing the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) and China's role in the Mekong region. The forum was co-organized with chinadialogue, The Third Pole, and Earth Journalism Network. Over ninety participants were spending the full day discussing important issues on the cooperation framework and initiatives in Southeast Asia.

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The Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, opened the event with welcoming remarks highlighting how the countries of mainland Southeast Asia are facing a period of rapid change with growing flows of investment from China into a range of projects. He observed that whilst economic growth continues, there remain unresolved challenges on environmental sustainability, social equity, and public participation.

The first session, moderated Dr. Carl Middleton from CSDS, discussed the geopolitical implications of the Belt and Road Initiative for Asia. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak from the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) of Chulalongkorn University raised the question on how the Belt and Road Initiative posed challenges to the existing legal international regimes, while Mr. Li Hong who is the Permanent Representative of China to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) discussed the ideas behind the Belt and Road Initiatives and how it is an open initiative and it is expected to be a joint effort between the countries instead of just centering on China. Legal and Political Analyst Benjamin Zawacki explained the impact of Belt and Road Initiatives for the relations between Thailand and the US, including US proposals for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the crucial role Thailand could be playing once it takes up the ASEAN chair in 2019. Wrapping up the session was Amantha Perera, a journalist from Sri Lanka, who shared the experience of Sri Lanka dealing with investments from China which has led in some cases to a so-called “Debt Trap” when loans failed to perform. He also reminded how environmental impact from investments are rarely being properly assessed and not publicly disclosed.

The second session, moderated by Dr. Ukrist Pathmanand from the Mekong Research Center of Chulalongkorn University, discussed the progress and challenges on transboundary water cooperation. Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat explained about the MRC and how it was increasingly engaging with China, including through the LMC. Dr. John Dore, Lead Water Specialist from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted how around transboundary water governance on the Mekong River involved not only governments, but multiple actors and coalitions through multi-track diplomacy that influences development directions and decision-making. Meanwhile Supalak Ganjanakhundee from The Nation newspaper reflected on the Xe Pian - Xe Nam Noi disaster and how he expected the existing initiatives in the Mekong Region, including the MRC, to play a bigger part in responding to the disaster.

The third session, moderated by Kamol Sukin from chinadialogue, discussed emerging cooperation issues with the rise of the LMC. Courtney Weatherby from the Stimson Centre raised the issue of energy market shifts. In particular, she addressed how the price of non-hydropower renewables were dropping quickly, there are now innovations in energy transmission, and how China’s current excess hydropower could drastically alter investment needs in the Lower-Mekong region. Dr. Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) explained the necessity of sustainable scientific cooperation across the region to address knowledge gaps. She also highlighted how better approaches to knowledge production and need to influence policy, in particular the “co-production of knowledge” between researchers and practioners. Dr. Apichai Sunchindah, an Independent Development Specialist, highlighted the lack of sufficient cooperation between different existing regional frameworks and how ASEAN could help in backing initiatives in the Mekong Region to balance the influence of China.

In the last session, moderated by Sim Kok Eng Amy from Earth Journalism Network, journalists from China, Myanmar, and Vietnam shared the trends, challenges, and successes for Southeast Asia's media on reporting the Mekong and China's role. Wang Yan from News China highlighted journalists' role in reporting regional issues such as helping to facilitate communications between upstream and downstream countries and communities. Zayar Hlaing from Mawkun Magazine in Myanmar shared the story of the Sino-Myanmar pipeline project and its impact on the livelihood of people living along the pipeline. Bui Tien Dung from Vietnam shared about the importance of networking and capacity building for journalists working on environmental and social issues in the Mekong Region to improve the quality of the reporting. This session also highlighted the importance of cooperation between media and research institutes to help inform public debates.

For the closing remarks, Dr. Sam Geall from chinadialogue highlighted the importance of improved communication between China and the Lower Mekong countries and the role that journalists could play. Professor Surichai Wun'gaeo from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Chulalongkorn University ended the forum with a reminder that any regional inter-governmental cooperation needs to be understood from the perspective of the impact on people’s lives, and emphasized the importance of always putting the well-being of people as the priority.

The shared presentations from this discussion can be accessed here. Some of the sessions were broadcast on Facebook Live and can also be viewed on the above link.

PRESENTATION: Making Research Matter: From Theory to Praxis

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How can research make an impact on real-world problems in Southeast Asia? This was the theme of an invited keynote presentation by Dr. Carl Middleton at the Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia Partnership (UCRSEA) Annual Workshop on 7th May 2018 in Yangon, Myanmar.  

 Dr. Carl Middleton presenting his research

Dr. Carl Middleton presenting his research

In a presentation titled “Making Research Matter: From Theory to Praxis,” Dr Middleton argued that there is much to be learned from transdisciplinary research methods. Specifically, he suggested that:

  • Academic knowledge alone is not enough to achieve sustainable development. Multiple actors and multiple forms of knowledge (local, practical, political…) must be involved.
  • The earlier in the research process we work together, the better; process is everything to build trust, legitimacy, networks, and a shared understanding of the problem, the research itself, and ultimately the solutions
  • Engaging in real world problems for a researcher means maintaining academic research principles (furthering knowledge and theory) whilst simultaneously working with others. All partners should maintain a critical engagement with each other.

The full presentation can be downloaded here.

The overall focus of the workshop was to strengthen research capacity in Southeast Asia to address urban resilience to climate change and people-centered vulnerability. Visit UCRSEA’s website for further details on their research program. 

Contact at CSDS: Dr. Carl Middleton

 Participants of the Annual Workshop

Participants of the Annual Workshop

EVENT: KNOTS Train-the-Trainer (TTT) Workshop

From 1-4 May 2018, academia and researchers involved in the KNOTS program gathered at the Political Science Department at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand for a special Train-the-Trainer (TTT) workshop aimed at helping build and teach a transdisciplinary curriculum. After a successful summer school held in northern Vietnam in 2017, this workshop continued the work of the EU Erasmus+ sponsored initiative, that serves as a response to the increasingly evolving topics of  social inequality, climate change and migration, with the aim to bridge the higher education sector and non-academic actors. From Germany to Vietnam, this international team has been meeting across the globe in a highly collaborative and international effort to build and grown the transdisciplinary program known as KNOTS, with the hopes that as this method and mindset continues to spread, it will allow for greater engagement of not only multiple stakeholders, but greater connection to local communities, who have often in the past been left out of the research taking place in their own spaces.

Using the Political Science faculty's smart classroom, which came enabled with interactive and connectable LED screens, group-work friendly mobile tables/chairs, whiteboard desks and smart whiteboards, the four days of sessions were designed to not just upskill the program's academics to go out and teach transdisciplinary research methods, but to be interactive and iterative in a way that will continue to shape the content so it is custom and bespoke for the participant's particular situation, country or learning cohort. As with most training programs, the initial sessions covered the history and background of transdisciplinary methods, how to rethink our current scientific/research paradigms and then jumped into how to actually begin creating and teaching such a program. 

As the TTT progressed throughout the week, close attention was paid to getting feedback from trainees, as this project is still in its infancy and like all good research projects and collaborative efforts, thrives on constructive criticism and alterations to the original plan. With the foundation of transdisciplinary methods laid out by Dr. Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn Univ.) and Dr. Petra Dannecker (Univ. of Vienna), a deeper dive into social inequality, migration and environmental issues was presented, and how they can/should be looked at through a transdisciplinary lens. Like the foundational sessions, importance on trainee input and feedback was given in order to best frame the conversations for the situations currently being experienced here in Southeast Asia.

 KNOTS participants attending the train the trainer event

KNOTS participants attending the train the trainer event

EVENT: Salween Studies Research Workshop - The Role of Research for a Sustainable Salween River

Salween River near Hpa-an
 participants of the 2018 Salween Studies Workshop (Credit: R. Irven)

participants of the 2018 Salween Studies Workshop (Credit: R. Irven)

The 2018 Salween Studies Research Workshop gathered researchers and experts from around the world on 26 & 27 February at the University of Yangon, Myanmar to discuss the present situation of this important river as well as the future of the basin, its people and natural ecologies. This research workshop was also the final meeting of the Salween Water Governance Project and as such, represents the culmination of three years of research and collaboration among the “Salween University Network.” The workshop was co-hosted by the University of Yangon, the York Centre for Asian Research and CSDS, with the kind support of CGIAR WLE and Australian Aid. Over sixty participants were able to spend two full days diving into important issues and developments all related to the unique Salween River, with topics ranging from the traditional conversations around water management and natural conservation to more contentious presentations on peace/conflict and alternative development planning. The abstract booklet for the entire workshop is available for download here. With great diversity in backgrounds, nationality and expertise, it can be concluded that the wealth of knowledge exchange and learning that took place during this workshop was not only inspiring to all those in attendance, but has set the bar for future gatherings on the topic, aimed at creating real action and planning for Salween River sustainable and inclusive development. 

 Prof. Maung Maung Aye

Prof. Maung Maung Aye

In total, 30 individuals presented their research or current work/projects in twelve separate, themed panels, with the addition of important keynote and closing statements. In the opening address by Professor Maung Maung Aye, the seasoned Salween advocate highlighted the importance of research and the scientific process to the past, present and future of the Salween River. Given the political and often violent upheaval that has been ever-present along the river and throughout the country over the past decades, persistent and continued research has the ability to greatly boost the efforts of knowledge transfer, policy change and conservation, which is seen as a major benefit to the millions who depend on the river. He also stated that past conferences and this workshop continue to highlight the need to better link researchers with the decision-making processes that are taking place, which will also allow for more effective collaboration between the many various actors who relate to the river in some way. Professor Maung concluded that those in the room (and outside) need to continue thinking outside of the box to create more inclusive solutions to the problems stemming from river development and most importantly, be sure to include local community perspectives in all policy processes.

Chiang Mai University's Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti kicked off the second day of the workshop with a focus on the states of knowledge and geographies of ignorance of/in the Salween Basin, issues that lie under the surface of the conversation, but have a mighty effect on how decisions are made and who controls what. Dr. Chayan is known throughout the region for his transdisciplinary community based research, so his spirited and inspiring keynote about the importance of analyzing how knowledge is produced, understood and dispersed, in terms of development and conservation on the Salween, was extremely timely and an important addition to the workshop's conversations and vision.

For the closing remarks, Dr. Khin Maung Lwin discussed how research and policy making on the Salween River (and beyond) is related, a topic most in the audience could relate to, as many are active not only in research, but policy change. The question of how the two concepts should be related and work with each other is certainly a complicated one, particularly in Myanmar these days, but as Dr. Khin Maung Lwin pointed out, based off of just the research and work presented during the workshop, the two most certainly compliment each other in many situations, and policy making cannot happen properly without research, and quite often, research is made practical or relevant if it affects policy. The trick with connecting both is to find a happy medium, a balance between two delicate processes, only made even more complicated when looking at many of the issues that face the river and the people who depend on it. 

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EVENT: 2nd International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies

Burma Studies Conf

From 16-18 February 2018, academics, researchers, and civil society convened in Mandalay, Myanmar for the 2nd International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies hosted by the University of Mandalay in conjunction with Chiang Mai University. This three-day event gave participants an opportunity to present their most recent research on all things related to Burma/Myanmar, from the effects of hydropower construction on the country’s rivers and communities, to health trends of Burmese migrants in northern Thailand. For full details on the conference and to download all the abstracts for the presentations detailed below, please follow the link. CSDS Researchers convened three separate panels during the event, and supported Salween fellows and visiting researchers to present on the panels. 

The first CSDS session, convened by Carl Middleton, focused on the sometimes-drastic changes that are now taking place in many of the sites within the Salween Basin as the effects of hydropower and land development transform communities and livelihoods. With a session title of “Local Livelihoods and Change in the Salween Basin,” four researchers from the Salween Fellowship program (Dr. Mar Mar Aye, Dr. Khin Sander Aye, Hnin Wut Yee and Dr. Cherry Aung) presented findings from their research. Satellite imagery was used in Dr. Khin Sander Aye’s research to show how forest and agricultural land cover was changing due to a lack of management and conservation, and the negative impacts this was already causing in community’s local economies and individual livelihoods. Similarly, Dr. Cherry Aung’s research focused on how new developments on the Thanlwin River, and in particular its estuary, were affecting natural ecology and fish populations, where the drastic decline of fish populations (some have even gone extinct) is causing major problems for the people and economies that depend on them. Dr. Mar Mar also used an analysis on how plants are being tapped for their medicinal purpose and how the changes in this practice is effected by development projects and economic improvements in the study area. Fellow Hnin dived deeper into the hydropower development debate by looking specifically at how women are not only impacted by these new plans, but how they are (or are not) included in decision making processes that will have major impacts on their lives and livelihoods.

 Joanna Göetz presenting

Joanna Göetz presenting

In the afternoon, Vanessa Lamb convened a session that looked at the cultural and political implications and transformations of the Salween River and the communities that are located on or around it. Civil society member and research fellow John Bright presented on how the traditional understanding of human rights as well as a lesser known frame of cultural rites could be used to increase participation and decision-making power of local communities that are most effected by river developments, concluding with a presentation of the Salween Peace Park concept that has been growing in popularity among many involved in the riparian debate. Similarly, Alec Scott, co-authoring with Carl Middleton, analyzed river developments from a frame that recognizes that there are multiple pathways in the debate, further complicating the not-so-simple debate by bringing in more actors and viewpoints on the benefits or damages created from hydropower developments on the Salween River. Visiting CSDS Research Fellow Joanna Göetz took a step back from the normal conversation to question the current definition of water and scale in the governance conversation. By redefining the debate and understanding of these concepts amongst various actors (both state, government and citizen), she argued that this could have very important implications for future development, most of which would not be positive for the everyday person. Finally, Dr. Vanessa Lamb took a look at flooding, and how various communities, particularly those who practice riverbank gardening, utilize and harness monsoon flooding, shining a new spotlight on how we understand disaster narratives and some uncovered truths behind them.

Mandalay Palace

The last of the sessions organized by CSDS was that of “Development and Transition in Myanmar: Exploring a New Political and Economic Landscape Since 2010,” led by Dr. Nauremon Thabchumpon where panelist delved into discussion about change and future implications of such transformations. This session took on a more formal and technical tone, with panelists looking at specific development projects, laws and finance structures and how they are creating new status quos and relationships in the political and economic sectors. Looking at newly established legal and political reform, Wolfram Schaffer used various case studies to demonstrate his argument that rather than state-building, recent changes in governance and rule-of-law are resulting in greater trans-nationalization between Myanmar and its neighbors, particularly given increased bi-lateral development projects and trade in the region. Nattapon Tantrakoonsap from Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies took the recent case study of the Mandalay-Ruili Road Connection project to highlight Myanmar’s new and growing relationship with China, as well as the fact that this relationship is not static but rather one that continues to change as its border situation, forest policy and special economic policy continues to alter course. MAIDS alumni Zaw Aung also used the country's current development policies and plans to determine how these were resulting in economic transitions both for the post-military government as well as the nation, a transformation which has important implications for the citizens of Myanmar who are eager for change and prosperity. With the return of the civilian government (the first in 50 years), the economic effects of a growing democracy and liberalization of the markets could spell success if enacted correctly, or financial disasters for millions. Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon also focused on the effects of economic changes on the democratic transition and how these trickled down to effect the public sector and the growing civil society movements. Her presentation made the case that these transitions in both the economic and political spheres were resulting in expanded spaces for the public sector and civil society participation in the democratic movement, but not without a sleuth of challenges that comes with such a transformation. Lastly, a presentation by Carl Middleton on work conducted with Naruemon Thabchumpon, Fransiskus Adrian and Tarmedi Surada Chundasutathanakul discussed how the road link project of the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) has sparked and transformed conflict among communities on the project's route, and threatens local livelihoods and ways of traditional life. While power structures continue to grow asymmetrically, mainly benefitting the state and project developers, new spaces are appearing in which the public and civil society can challenge the current narrative. 

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Lastly, in a separate panel that had a focus on Chin State, Dr. Carl Middleton presented his research on water insecurity in Hakha town, Chin State, Myanmar, culminating the over year-long field research that was conducted there. With a growing population and decreasing peace and resources, accessible and clean water for all is of major concern for the region and the town is making due with community water groups and small-scale private activities. The research presented uncovered that structural violence, not just population growth, was a major factor behind the decline of water security in Hakha Town, so matters of justice actually stand to be addressed on top of traditional water governance methods. 

 csds researchers (Left to Right: Alec Scott, SAw John & Dr. Mar mar aye) (Credit: R. Irven)

csds researchers (Left to Right: Alec Scott, SAw John & Dr. Mar mar aye) (Credit: R. Irven)

EVENT: "Towards a Creative Diplomacy Agenda: Exploring New Approaches for Contemporary Transboundary Water Governance"

Why Think Tanks and Civil Society Networks Matter

Towards a Creative Diplomacy Agenda:
Exploring New Approaches for Contemporary Transboundary Water Governance

 

As part of a special day of worldwide events, spanning over 100 cities and with 160 organizations involved, Chulalongkorn University (CSDS, Chula Global Network and the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies) hosted a Why Think Tanks Matter event, moderated by Prof. Kasira Cheeppensook, focused on the topic of how civil society can create a stronger diplomacy agenda for transboundary water governance and riparian diplomacy. This series of global events was sparked to help highlight the crucial role think tanks and civil society now play in analyzing, developing and promoting policy solutions, particularly as the rise of populism, nationalism and protectionism increase worldwide, signaling an end to the traditional post-WWII order of politics and society. Particularly here in Southeast Asia where a change in the relationships between the environment, social movements, governments and human rights is creating a new set of security challenges, solutions are required amongst all institutions to cooperate in a more consistent and effective manner. 

 World leaders at the LMC

Paired with this important topic were the issues and opportunities that face this region in particular, of perhaps the most precious resource for humankind: water. With the region's rivers serving not only as the lifeblood to millions of people, but also as boundaries to many nations in South and Southeast Asia, the importance of pragmatic and effective diplomacy, not just by governments, but by civil society institutions, will be vital to the success and stability of the region for the foreseeable future. 

As the organizations and institutions tasked with such work have a tough road ahead on these topics, it is imperative that they operate with knowledge and resources that reflect and come from a variety and multiplicity of levels and stakeholders, in order to remain relevant, impactful and fair. This is perhaps the most important accompanying set of discussions that were brought up by almost every panelists, as it is recognized widely that knowledge equates with power, so it is the role of civil society to ensure that this knowledge is used in an innovative and widespread manner to promote sustainable and equitable change for all. Panelists at this event did not mince words and stressed the importance of collaboration and transparency, which are still heavily needed in the work being done at this topics at all levels. 

 Panelists (Credit: D.  Marksiri)

Panelists (Credit: D.  Marksiri)

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, from the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh opened the panel by providing an alternative yet thought provoking take on the meanings and re-contextualizations of both "water" and "rivers," as he supports the idea that this must now be done in order to better understand how we use water and how it is interwoven in all parts of society and daily life. The concepts of using the new methodology of micro-narratives to better tell stories in order to bring about creative hydrodiplomacy were also brought up, adding to the innovation that this series of events hopes to spark throughout civil society. Dr. John Dore from the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Australia challenged the room to think outside of the proverbial box as he reviewed and analysed alternative mechanisms and organizations like the Lancang Mekong Cooperation Framework that are reshaping water policy and governance in the region, fueled by new regional players and an increasingly serious battle for depleting resources. The subsequent three presentations given by Ganesh Pangare and Bushra Nishat  (International Water Association), Dr. Sucharit Koonthanakulwong (UNESCO Chair on Water & Sustainable Development) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (CSDS/Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University) all focused on local case studies where civil society, co-productions of knowledge and innovations are being employed to better engage all members of society in projects focused on hydro-diplomacy and water governance. Lastly Dr. Chariyaway Suntabutra the Former Ambassador of Thailand to Egypt, Kenya and Germany provided his insight on the panel's non-traditional methods compared with the traditional diplomacy approaches observed from his time working for the government, and stressed that these new ways of thinking are indeed vital for our shared success and survival in the future. The wrap-up to the panel given, by Surichai Wun'gaeo, served as both an inspiration and call to action for all present, with emphasis on challenging the current status quo in order to influence those in power and to make real, tangible change, starting from the lowest grassroots level all the way up to the top.  

 

EVENT: Panel Presentation at Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN Conference

"Water (In)security and Development in Southeast Asia: Inclusions, Exclusions and Transformations"

 local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

On the first day of the Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN International Conference 2018: Agri-Food Systems, Rural Sustainability and Socioeconomic Transformations in South-east Asia, CSDS organized and presented on a panel centered on conflicts over access to, control over and use of water and natural resources at scales ranging from the interstate to the individual. Four panelists presented their most recent research which focused on case studies from around the region, in Myanmar, Thailand and Lao PDR. The panel was comprised of Dr. Soimart Rungmanee (Puay Ungpakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasart University), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kanokwan Manorom (Department of Social Science, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University), Saw John Bright (Karen Environmental and Social Action Network - KESAN) and Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University). For more details on the conference please visit our post here or download the official program here

To download the full presentations from the panel, please visit the links below:

WORKSHOP: "Utilizing Storytelling and Innovative Social Media Strategies to Help Researchers Reach the Public"

"Utilizing Storytelling and Innovative Social Media Strategies to Help Researchers Reach the Public"

Comms training

Ahead of the first annual Social and Sustainability Science in ASEAN: "Agri-Food Systems, Rural Sustainability and Socioeconomic Transformations in South-east Asia," the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) held a special training workshop for interested participants of the conference to build their communications capacity, particularly using social media platforms and unique storytelling to reach wider audiences both online and in-person. The workshop convened on the afternoon of Monday, 22 January, 2018 and was attended by participants from around the region and beyond. Bobby Irven of CSDS and Anneli Sundin of SEI created and conducted the two hour session.*

The workshop began by going over the basics and setup for utilizing the social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to present research in the forms of multimedia and engaging copy to reach audiences beyond the traditional academic spheres. Actioning the recommendations and implications of scientific research was the theme of this workshop, so practical applications as they relate to social media were the focal point of this section.. The discussion then moved onto the topic of storytelling and how mastering this age-old communications strategy can actually be very effective for researchers to better engage audiences and create buildup and excitement around their various projects. Attendees were challenged to begin putting these techniques immediately into practice, with ample opportunities to begin blogging and tweeting about the conference and beyond.

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*Full presentation and materials from training will be available to public in one weeks time.

For more information on the content, please visit the original announcement page

PRESENTATION: Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Impact Assessment in ASEAN

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On 29th and 30th October 2017, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) organized a two day workshop in Yangon on a "Rights-Based Approach to Regional Management Strategy for an Effective Environmental Impact Assessment." 

Dr. Carl Middleton of CSDS was invited to offer a presentation titled "Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Impact Assessment in ASEAN", which can be downloaded here.

The key messages of the presentation were as follows:

  • Sustainable development for ASEAN will mean choosing wisely (and steering towards) sustainable “pathways.” Impact Assessments are key tools that can inform and shape inclusive decision-making
  • Impact Assessment is simultaneously a scientific, assessment and political process. A human right based approach ensures that all appropriate knowledge and opinions are considered
  • In a region with strong economic growth and accelerating economic integration, environmental policy must keep up. A human right based approach will help environmental policy keep pace and innovate, for example on community health impact assessment

EVENT: 2017 Greater Mekong WLE Forum: 'Water Policies for a Sustainable and Inclusive Future: Research Insights from the Salween, Mekong, Red River Fellowship Program'

By Robert Irven

 local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

local researcher roundtable discussion (Credit: R. Irven)

The second day of the 2017 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy has continued with insightful and sometimes emotional presentations from both researchers and development organizations alike and today, fellows from the MK31, MK32 and MK33 programs came together to present and discuss their projects. Years in the making, the research presented focused on the rivers and basins of the Salween, Mekong and Red, with themes highlighting water governance, healthy rivers; river food systems, healthy landscape and ecosystems and gender and social justice (see WLE website for more details). All Greater Mekong region countries were represented, and the session today gave a space not only to present projects that have been being researched and developed for years, but also a chance for attendees to personally connect with the researchers for further questioning and debate. 

The session began with a roundtable presentation of representatives from each river, highlighting commonalities of the groups research as well as lessons learned, surprising findings and what was most gained from participating in the fellowship program. The Salween representatives highlighted how much of their combined worked took a justice narrative at the end as many sought to give a voice to local or marginalized populations that would normally be unable to seek justice or a change in their evolving status quo. Hnin Wut Yee also mentioned that she was surprised to discover the fact that there is an changing attitude towards women's access to resources, a positive shift in historically and culturally patriarchal communities throughout Myanmar. The projects coming out of the Mekong River region centered around the transformation of this mighty river which is producing and again, evolving, risks for surrounding communities. The effects of climate change have also been documented and continue to present a great challenge for both researchers working and local communities living in the region. Similarly, the Red River team from Vietnam also highlighted a visible growing impact of climate change on many of their projects and noted while most communities don't necessarily recognize or understand the threat, this theme/topic is of great importance and will play an importance factor in future research in their country. 

Perhaps one of the most unique aspect of this program is the capacity and ability to which it has shaped and changed the lives of the fellows involved. Not only did the presenters' research and academic skills greatly benefit and improve from their active involvement in both field work and academic presentation through papers, blogs and conferences, but the networks and friendships that have been created both within the river cohorts and across the Greater Mekong region have culminated in better analysis, friendships and future work. One presenters commented the the program both literally and figuratively allowed her to take her work further, both in a sense where the funding allowed for greater scope and travel to remote sites, but also the level of professionally in technical writing and related outputs greatly improved. In building off of the theme of justice that was captured by many in the field, one researched commended the fellowship's ability to empower the researcher and allow her to consequently raise up more voices throughout the community she conducted her work in, particularly those of women. 

As the roundtable came to a close, attendees were invited to tour the room and visit each researcher's individual research presentations, providing them with further details and fuel for thought on a variety of issues across Southeast Asia. The researchers had ample opportunities to practice their research narratives and elevator pitches to a crowd that was hungry for knowledge and not shy to press and debate for more information. In observing the ending scene of this session, it is obvious that this fellowship program was a huge success and the research documented and the communities engaged will certainly have an impact on future policy makers and hopefully inspire new generations to go out into the unknown to uncover answers, truth and bring light to those seeking justice and change in their communities. 

Image: Poster session with all individual researchers following roundtable presentation (Credit: R. Irven)

EVENT: 2017 Greater Mekong WLE Forum: 'Bringing the Village to the Conference: Local Salween Research'

 Ethnic woman in yunnan, China (Credit: Green Watershed)

Ethnic woman in yunnan, China (Credit: Green Watershed)

By Robert Irven

The 2017 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy has officially kicked of and researchers, scientists, policy makers, non-state actors, civil service, journalist and every other profession that you could imagine with an interest in water in Southeast Asia have all come together in Yangon, Myanmar for a three day event that will touch on a diverse and highly-inclusive array of topics related to the region and beyond. 

Our Salween water governance research, comprising of researchers and staff members from York University Center for Asian Research, the Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Weaving Bonds Across Borders and Green Watershed, presented in a way that was meant to bring their fieldwork and uncovered stories from remote communities to the conference for all interested participants to see first hand what is happening on the ground there as it relates to the challenges, threats and opportunities of water governance. 

 Presenters from the Mon Pan Local Research team (Credit: R. Irven)

Presenters from the Mon Pan Local Research team (Credit: R. Irven)

The first video and subsequent Q&A session, presented by the Mong Par Youth Association and Weaving Bonds Across Borders, focused on the Mong Pan region. The session revealed the intimate relationship between the community and water, as well as how the divisions of labor and responsibility in terms of gender relate to water. The session also highlighted the  implications of growing human settlements and extractive industries (logging; small scale mining) growing on the river and the wildlife and fish species there, as those who are situated on or near the river depend heavily on these resources for their survival and livelihoods.

Second, the team from KESAN researching the Daw Lar Lake in Karen (Kayin) State, Myanmar previewed a short clip from the newly launched Salween Stories multimedia platform, showcasing their findings and analysis on the community-based governance of the lake and its resources. Community action was urged, both in this case study and for the wider region as the lake's resources were changing and starting to have an effect on the local communities there.  

Lastly, the Green Watershed team took us to the Nu River (jiang/江)river basin in Yunnan, China where their documentary focused on the changing policies and attitudes in the region which is now being designated as an expansive ecotourism development project sponsored by both the Central and local governments aimed to conserve this national beauty.  

 Local handicrafts from Daw Lar lake in Karen (Kayin) state, Myanmar (Credit: R. IRven)

Local handicrafts from Daw Lar lake in Karen (Kayin) state, Myanmar (Credit: R. IRven)

EVENT: Final Salween-Mekong-Red workshop synthesize regional insights

The final workshop of the Mekong-Red-Salween fellowship program was held in Yangon on 23th and 24th October. 22 fellows joined the workshop, together with the project teams from Ubon Ratchathani University, the Vietnam Academy for Water Resources, and Chulalongkorn University. The overarching goal of the workshop was to identify and synthesize insights gained by fellows from the three river basins during the duration of their fellowship experience. The agenda can be downloaded here.

 Fellows convene for the final workshop (credit: Chawirakan Nomai

Fellows convene for the final workshop (credit: Chawirakan Nomai

On the first day, in the morning, we focused on the three themes:

For each theme, first there was a presentation by the project team, followed by facilitated group discussion by basin. Here, the fellows shared what they had learned about each topic through their research. A range of insights emerged that revealed both the shared and unique experiences across and within each basin. In the afternoon, we focused on identifying ways in which research produced through a fellowship program could practically impact policy agendas, followed by an evaluation of the program. The outcome of the day’s discussion will form the basis of a policy brief and book chapter.

On the second day, we focused on preparation for the Water Land Ecosystem (WLE) Forum the following day. Here, we synthesized the previous day’s discussion to answer the following five questions per basin to be present via a round table at the WLE Forum:

  • What are the common most significant themes/issues that you have observed from your research/ working with the next users?
  • What are the common emerging /new/ debatable knowledge that you have found from your research on resource governance/ social justice/ related themes?
  • What are the impacts of the fellows’ research on development/improve resource governance?
  • What are common key policy recommendations based on your research to improve resource governance in Salween/Mekong/Red river basins?
  • What have you gained from the program?

The fellows also identified and practiced a concise verbal summary of their policy poster and policy brief ready for their session.

The two day workshops revealed both the breadth and depth of knowledge generated by the fellowship program. We also discovered how over the past three years the fellows had learned much from each other, and built new friendships that span the region.

EVENT: Discovering Local Adaptation Strategies to Flooding: Third Pole Media Workshop Heads to Koh Kret

By Robert Irven

Kro kret 2.jpg

Tucked away just north of Bangkok proper sits a tiny island on the Chao Phraya River, home to both local Thai and decedents of ethnic Mon communities who have shared this location for over 200 years. Koh Kret was the site of the second day of the CSDS/ MAIDS/ Third Pole media workshop, where our visiting journalists and new MAIDS students were taken for a day of observation and hands-on learning on 21 August 2017. Corresponding with the workshop’s main themes, the day focused on learning the island’s history and current responses to regular and severe floods, the utility of local/traditional knowledge, sustainable tourism and community cooperation and activism.  

ur group was first greeted and briefed by the islands main administrators, who gave a brief history of the island, and generously answered in detail many of the group’s questions relating to flood prevention and how urban and environmental changes were affecting the island. They emphasized a ranged of challenges, including river bank erosion, managing pollution, and the impacts of flooding.

Wasting no time, the group was then whisked away to a farming area, where a tour of a traditional fruit farm was given, allowing for a glimpse into Thailand’s agricultural practices and the challenges this sector now faces. Koh Kret island is famous for its durian fruit, which can cost up to THB 10,000 per kilogram. The farmer explained that whilst the durian trees are vulnerable to flooding, some farms build dykes to protect their trees, and there was a wider desire for more comprehensive flood protection dyke infrastructure for the whole island.

After cooling off away from the brutal midday monsoon heat, the group arrived at the community center for some traditional Thai snacks and sweets, alongside an introduction of community life and how the seven moo’s [villages] interact and work together to keep traditions alive and teach its many daily tourists about their lives on Koh Kret.

After a relaxing lunch alongside the river, the group broke up, with the MAIDS graduate students going off to practice some of their newly learned research methods and the journalists continuing their tour of the island, ending at the island’s famous pottery handicraft center, where traditional clay techniques were displayed and explained.

Kro kret 3.jpg

Overall, the field trip to Koh Kret was an opportunity to learn firsthand the experiences of communities who regularly experience flooding of the Chao Phraya River. We discovered that whilst the floods are regularly disruptive, the communities and the local authorities collaborate together to prepare for floods as much as possible, and minimize the harm should flooding occur. Access to information is key to enable preparation, alongside a sense of community solidarity that ensures mutual support when flooding creates difficulties.

EVENT: 'Water and the Neighborhood': A Diversity of Ideas Flow Through Media Workshops at Chulalongkorn University

By Robert Irven

This week, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) at Chulalongkorn University, in partnership with The Third Pole, welcomed journalists from Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and India for a three-day media workshop entitled “Water and the Neighborhood.” Discussion centered on the social and ecological issues surrounding the major transboundary rivers of South and Southeast Asia, including the Brahmaputra, Mekong and Salween Rivers. 

Also in attendance was the new class of graduate students from the Faculty of Political Science’s Master of Arts in International Development Studies (MAIDS). They took the opportunity to kick off their studies and discuss development in action. They also had a chance for some initial fieldwork with a visit to Koh Kret Island on the Chaophraya River on the second day of the workshop. 

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Participants and guests from the first day of the media workshop (Photo by Robert Irven, 2017)

The speakers held a vast array of experiences and backgrounds, including from international organizations such as UN Environment. the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and the Mekong River Commission, academics such as from the Indian Institute of Technology (Guwahati), as well as media organizations such as the Mekong Eye and civil society groups such as International Rivers. They engaged in a variety of presentations and discussions with the goal of sharing knowledge, exploring the context of transboundary river contestation and cooperation, and providing journalism-specific insights to benefit those in the field on the front lines of these often highly contentious, transboundary issues.  

While presentations ranged in scope and topic, common themes and questions helped focus debate that allowed for meaningful interactions in a multicultural gathering and saw academics, civil society organizations and journalists all learning from one another. One commonly discussed theme, for example, was the importance of placing riparian communities central to decision-making, including through engagement with River Basin Organizations (RBO’s). Whether in the form of formal networks, as represented by inter-governmental RBOs, or via informal arrangements, networks are now seen as vital to the regional conservation and sustainable development of these delicate ecologies, where humans and the natural world intersect in a variety of ways. From the Salween River, shared between China, Myanmar and Thailand, to the Brahmaputra/Jamuna River that starts in China and flows through four countries in South Asia, accelerated and often poorly planned large water infrastructure projects are threatening the existing ways of life of tens of millions of people that depend on the life-giving qualities of these waterways, where communities that have built their lives around nature for centuries. RBO’s at their best may act as a focal point for community, government and non-state actors to gather knowledge and a platform to encourage conversation and decision-making from all sides. 

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Field trip to Ko Kret to learn about traditional life and flood adaptation (Photo by Robert Irven, 2017) 

As the Director of the MAIDS Program, Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, reiterated during the kickoff of the event, the fate of the region’s rivers and basins and the communities that depend on them hang in the balance, so it is the type of cooperation and knowledge sharing undertaken at this event that becomes crucial for all nations to succeed in their conservation efforts. Saw John Bright, speaking for the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), pointed out that given the variety of challenges faced throughout the region, it will take equally innovative solutions and management to fix many of the long-term problems that are faced, including community based natural resource management and in the case of the Salween River, he proposed support for the establishment of a “Salween Peace Park.” 

Without the discovery and documenting of new and lesser-known stories by the media and academics alike, inclusive and fair decision-making around transboundary rivers is highly unlikely. With the tools and knowledge gained over the past week, journalists and experts alike left not only better prepared to continue their work on these issues, but more energized and galvanized for the challenges ahead.

EVENT: The Political Economy of New Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

Session organized at the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars

11:30-13:15, 22nd July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Political authoritarianism is strengthening across Southeast Asia, mirroring a noted trend globally. This panel explored the politics, processes, and implications of the (re)assertion of authoritarianism, focusing on its political-economic regimes, but also including its ideologies and discourses. The panel engaged in a long-standing debate that globalisation and economic liberalism goes hand in hand with liberalisation and democratization in the political sphere. This association goes back to Lipset’s Modernisation Theory. Refuted by many and of fading interest by the 1970s, it came back into fashion in the 1990s with the spread of neoliberal capitalism and the so-called “third wave” of democratization.

The recent rise of authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia and globally seems to be a sustained trend that may be connected to economic projects associated with a specific stage of capitalist development (crisis driven late capitalism), and that also mirror the interests of the elite in power. This can be analysed through what Poulantzas, in the 1970s, called authoritarian statism, whereby a growing role of the state seeks to ensure economic growth under conditions of capitalist crisis tendencies.

In this panel, we situated the new authoritarianism of contemporary Southeast Asia within a post-Washington and post-aid era of globalization. The region’s new authoritarianism builds upon legacies of past authoritarianism, in particular the various guises of developmental states - both capitalist and socialist - since the 1950s. Even if authoritarian statism receded in the 1990s and 2000s, it never fully ended. Now, the region is increasingly under the political and economic sway of China, but also subject to intensified attention of the United States. Some countries have visibly becoming more authoritarian in recent years, including by military coup (Thailand) or strong-handed leaders (the Philippines; Cambodia), whilst others apparently less so, in particular Myanmar.  Vietnam and Laos, meanwhile, have stated themselves as socialist-orientated market economies. Trends towards regional economic integration, market expansion and intensification, meanwhile, add a regional-scaled dynamic to political authoritarianism.

The panel sought to address the following conceptual and empirical questions:

  • How can we conceptualize the connection between the trend of authoritarianism and the current state of capitalist development in Southeast Asia?
  • What are the characteristics of the authoritarian states in Southeast Asia? What economic models of development are being proposed by these states?
  • What are the implications for civil society, social movements, democracy and human rights?

The following papers were presented :

  • The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and its influence on the political situation of China's neighbouring countries, by Dr. Wolfram Schaffar, University of Vienna
  • Thailand 4.0: the Rise of Neo-authoritarian Developmental State, by Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, Chulalongkorn University
  • 'Ephemeral transnational' and 'authoritarian domestic' public spheres in Laos hydropower dams, Dr. Carl Middleton, Chulalongkorn University
  • Authoritarian development, frontier capitalism and indigenous counter-movements in Myanmar Rainer Einzenberger, University of Vienna

The panel was chaired by Dr. Chantana Banpasirichote Wungaeo of Chulalongkorn University.

The papers presented on the panel are part of a forthcoming Special Issue to be published in the Austrian Journal of Southeast Asia Studies in mid-2018.

EVENT: "Thailand’s Overseas Investment in Southeast Asia and Transnational (In)Justice"

Session organized at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies
"Globalized Thailand?" Connectivity, Conflict, and Conundrums of Thai Studies
 

15:15-16:45, 16th July 2017, Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Center

Session convened by the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Our panel critically discussed Thailand’s investment role in the region through the lens of transnational social and environmental justice. Through empirical case studies on agribusiness, hydropower and special economic zones, we explored the political economy of these investments in order to understand the production of injustice and human rights violations.  The panel addressed the following questions: what are the roles, opportunities and challenges for public interest law, national/ regional human rights institutions, other transnational soft law mechanisms, and civil society to protect and promote human rights on Thailand’s investments?

The paper presentations can be downloaded below.

  • Paper 1:  Accountability Beyond the State: Extra territorial obligations in the case of the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Concession, Cambodia by Michelle D’cruz
  • Paper 2: Redressing transboundary environmental injustice at the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Roadlink Project by Naruemon Thabchumpon
  • Paper 3: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: Human Rights and Hydropower Dams on the Salween and Mekong Rivers by Carl Middleton

We would like to thank the panel discussant, Walden Bellow, and chair, Daniel King, for their insightful contributions to the panel.

Chair: Daniel King

EVENT: Salween Local Research Exhibition at Thai Studies Conference

Local researchers from villages along the Salween River, which flows through Myanmar, Thailand and China, have been conducting research into the social and environmental issues related to the river for the past two years. Their research shows water governance challenges from the perspective of the village.

Their work is on display at the Thai Studies Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 15 to 18 July 2017. Come visit their display in the Exhibition Hall, and meet the researchers in person.

The research is a part of the Salween Water Governance project.

PUBLIC SEMINAR: "Water Scarcity and Disaster Recovery in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar: Technical Problem or Governance Challenge?"

In recent years, the population of Hakha town, Chin State has faced growing water insecurity. This has created great hardships for the local population, especially in the dry season. For those who cannot access water from private springs, or afford to buy water, they must queue sometimes for hours to collect relatively small amounts of water. Compounding the difficulties faced by Hakha’s population, in June 2015, Hakha town suffered a major landslide. As a result, over 4000 people living in at-risk places were moved, many permanently to a new settlement. In the settlement, the government has provided land or houses, yet basic services including water and schools were lagging behind.

Two presentations reflected on the production of water insecurity, and increasing resilience to landslide risks:

  • “Water insecurity in Hakha Town, Chin State, Myanmar” by Asst. Prof. Dr. Carl Middleton (Director of CSDS) and Orapan Pratomlek (CSDS project coordinator) [Download PPT]
  • “Lessons learned from landslide disaster recovery in Hakha town, and how to strengthen resilience” by Hlawn Tin Cuai (Master Student of Architecture (IMARCH), Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University; and ex- Operation Manager of Hakha Rescue Committee, September 2015 to February 2016) [Download PPT]

Discussant comments were offered by Pastor Lai Cung (Hakhathar Baptist Church) and Van Bawi Lian (CSDS researcher).

The seminar can be watched on Facebook live here.

More details on our research project on water insecurity in Hakha town can be found here.

EVENT: "KNOTS Project Launch"

09:00 - 12:00

Alumni Association Conference Room, 12th floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Organized by MAIDS Program and CSDS

Background

The KNOTS project will focus on contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia, where transdisciplinary research methods could offer novel insights and innovative solutions. The particular focus is on: environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality.

The KNOTS project will prepare curriculum and teaching/ learning materials on transdisciplinary methods to be integrated into each universities’ teaching programs. Three summer schools and fieldtrips will be organized in Vietnam and Thailand over the duration of the project to pilot and refine these materials. There will also be a Stakeholders Workshop in June 2017 and a final conference in 2019, to be hosted at Chulalongkorn University.

The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam.

The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. At Chulalongkorn University, the MA in International Development Studies program is the project partner, alongside a network of academics and practitioners interested in teaching and practicing transdisciplinary research approaches.

Event objectives

This event will launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University. The objectives of the event are:

  • To formally launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University
  • To introduce the Chulalongkorn University team to the KNOTS project partners, and share about each team member’s institute/ department programs  

EVENT: MAIDS and CSDS Welcome Trinity College Faculty and Students

On 14th June 2017, the MAIDS and CSDS programs were very glad to welcome Prof. Xiangming Chen and his Faculty Colleagues and 25 students from the Center for Urban and Global Studies of Trinity College, Hartford, US. The faculty staff and students were mid-journey through their field trip visiting "River Cities" in China, Thailand and Cambodia. 

  The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University       (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

The Trinity College faculty and students at Chulalongkorn University

  (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

During the Visit, Dr. Carl Middleton of CSDS and MAIDS offered a lecture titled "Think global, act 'teleconnected' local: Exploring the connections between regional trade, water security, and community vulnerability in Bangkok and Tokyo." The lecture sought to stimulate discussion amongst the group on how processes of industrialization and urbanization in East Asia have impacted peri-urban wetland spaces and community livelihoods in Bangkok and Tokyo.

Following a brief discussion on the lecture, the group toured the Chulalongkorn University campus and visited the CU museum.

  Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local”   (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)

Dr Carl Middleton provides a lecture titled “Think Global, Act ‘Teleconnected’ Local” (Credit: Saittawut Yutthaworakool)