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Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CRISEA (Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2021-02-28

Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia (CRISEA) is an interdisciplinary project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme which brought together over 80 researchers from thirteen European and Southeast Asian institutions. Their aim was to study social, economic and political developments which foster cooperation and generate integrations, on the one hand, and forces which hamper or threaten regional ambitions, on the other.

CRISEA's objectives were threefold:

- Produce new knowledge on the competing forces in the governance of the environment, the regulation of economic processes and cooperation, the legitimation of state policies, the (re)shaping of collective identities and the development of Southeast Asia’s regionalism.
- Build an academic network whose members coordinated research programs, interacted in workshops, contributed to panels and roundtables at conferences and participated in CRISEA’s outreach activities.
- Disseminate innovative and policy-relevant research results to academics, stakeholders and policymakers. Designed to underpin the implementation of the 2015 Joint Communication on EU-ASEAN relations, the project's dissemination strategy included thematically oriented workshops for academics and stakeholders and policy briefings for EU diplomats.
The project's implementation comprised a kick-off meeting, three research workshops and a final conference, six e-newsletters, the collaborative production of web-documentaries and a website, functioning both as a platform of communication and dissemination.

Research findings centered on five ‘arenas of competition’:

Environment – Research focused on the contested knowledge of transnational river systems and the seas when modernizing projects clash with indigenous practices and value-systems or when institutional arrangements meant to secure the commons fail to deliver on their commitments and obligations.
Economy – Multiscale research looking at the development policies and transformations in SEA explored the political economy of equitable growth with special foci on labor issues, uneven development and state-state business relations.
State – Populism and authoritarian forces contest liberal traditions and values in SEA and provoke change. Locally and nationally, the region’s statecraft is redefined, re-interpreted or re-negotiated at various levels as the social and political power-balance is shifting.
Identity – Alternative identities have been and are still being shaped in a process of generational change, under the impact of violence or in transnational contexts.
Region – Research on the region presents ASEAN as an organization shielding its member-states and claiming centrality in SEA affairs through its construction of dialogue networks. As a corollary, the performance of external partners and powerholders to penetrate, interact and influence ASEAN is examined.

On top of its research agenda, CRISEA has delivered timely pieces relating to the impact of the pandemic in SEA and responses of several ASEAN member states.

Dissemination activities were structured events, result-driven and organized in a time and cost efficient way. In their implementation, they were reactive, providing well-timed inputs and flexible in the elaboration of both content and format. CRISEA had four types of impacts:
• The successful organization of dissemination workshops for the EEAS in Brussels and EU Delegations in SEA capitals in the form of briefings derived from a dialogue between researchers and diplomats coordinated by the project’s management team.
• The production of policy briefs including recommendations, introducing academic work to decision-makers and the public. Policy briefs were attentive to changing contexts such as the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the coup d’état in Myanmar in 2021.
• The multiplicator effect in outreach of the CRISEA web documentaries produced by collaborative work and discussions at workshops. They present case studies bearing out the project’s core questions about conflicting integrations in a zooming macro-micro perspective.
• The publication of project deliverables in the form of working papers, policy briefs, interviews, articles and academic publications in special journal issues and book chapters.

The project will be effective in the long run by its web-documentaries, its web archive of publications as well as the continuity of scholarly links and cooperation deriving from its network.
CRISEA set out to investigate the multiple and competing forces of integration such as China, neoliberal forces, international organizations, etc. Its findings deliver a complex picture which confirms the economic, political and social challenges hypothesized by CRISEA’s framework where integration depended on resolving conflicts between competing forces.

But the research also contains a second set of meanings that run counter to this narrative. Its findings articulate a critique of the project’s assumptions. Multiple forces of integration are at work in the region, but not all of them compete, and when they do compete, that is not always detrimental to integration.

In many contexts, cooperation results from competition. Our research shows that China’s multi-level strategy and economic interdependence are not just predatory but also offer opportunities. Shared concerns will pull countries together at the elite political level. Resource nationalism does not preclude cooperation. CRISEA researchers take a mixed, but overall positive view of recent trade agreements. However, regional progress depends on progress at the state level and calls for responsive governance and informed responsible statecraft. Subregional forms of integration, transregional imaginings and transnational identities add to the multi-layered social and historical substance of what SEA is. They also appear as reactions and antidotes to the state’s ideologies and hegemonic tendencies which translate as threats to more liberal values.

Project results make a strong case for enhanced integration in the long-term. This integration will be driven by multiple forces that cooperate as much as they compete. Finally, with social media and global insecurity, there are forces at the grass-roots level that bring the younger generation in the region together. The young prefer the liberal to the authoritarian state. Political protests led by young people in Thailand and Myanmar who talk to each other show that the competing forces of a country's political direction play out across borders and are of huge significance for the region as a whole.

CRISEA also points to contexts where ASEAN countries are muddling through with the requirements of international standards and entrenched practices of exploitation. They still lack determination to trust their own capacities and remain poorly invested in pursuing goals with a positive return for all. They do not yet show the responsiveness ASEAN’s citizens might wish for in the future.

CRISEA’s scholars have worked to publish high quality research relating to integration in Southeast Asia. This, in the end, is the project’s main achievement: the development of a set of networks and the publication of a body of research that contribute to building the field of Southeast Asian Studies and enhancing the European Union’s engagement with Asia and its role as a global actor in promoting research.
Group photo Kick-off meeting