An audience member holding a branded LSE SEAC conference pack

LSE Southeast Asia Forum

Meeting up with influential thinkers in a field of my interest was a great opportunity for me to ask questions and put a human face to the incisive argumentation and pages of publications carrying their names. This event was truly a gem!

Cheryl Shea Tham, International Relations student at LSE

Our flagship event, the annual LSE Southeast Asia Forum (SEAF) brings together leading Southeast Asia experts to engage with some of the region's most critical and pressing issues, as well as showcases the high-quality research on Southeast Asia conducted at LSE.


Southeast Asia Forum 2024: The Challenges of Sustainable Growth in Southeast Asia  

Southeast Asia is a region well-known for its economic dynamism, high growth rates, and increasing prosperity. But today the region faces unprecedented challenges amidst volatility in world markets, global climate crisis, and rising geopolitical tensions. This year’s Southeast Asia Forum features four experts on the economies of the region to discuss these challenges.  


Thumb-Session 1- South by Southeast

South by Southeast? From Miracle and Debacle to Pragmatism 

Thursday 23 May, 9:00am-10:30am  

Speaker: Jomo Kwame Sundaram (Khazanah Institute)

The 1993 World Bank publication of The East Asian Miracle celebrated the region’s rapid growth and transformation but also obscured important variations within. Japan’s endaka and Big Bang ended its post-war boom and anticipated the 1997 East Asian financial debacle. Meanwhile, coerced economic liberalization from the 1980s gave way to an era of globalization in a seemingly unipolar world following the West’s victory in the Cold War. But liberalization and globalization’s downsides soon accelerated U-turns. American sovereigntism was soon eroded by some consequences of its unipolar hegemony. Earlier liberalization and globalization also undermined industrial capitalism in favour of financialization. Capturing rents for wealth concentration has accelerated with enabling changes in the rule of law. Most of Southeast Asia remains focused on generating wealth, jobs, and revenue. But the ‘New Cold War’ is forcing Southeast Asian nations to take sides as the rules of engagement become fluid. Already Southeast Asian countries are implementing measures previously deemed to be unthinkable, measures which may well provide policy inspiration if not leadership to the Global South.    

Thumb Session 2 - Southeast Asia’s Green Supply Chains-fotor-2024032814383

Southeast Asia’s Green Supply Chains 

Thursday 23 May, 10:45am-12:15pm 

Speaker: Yu-leng Khor (Singapore Institute of International Affairs) 

In Southeast Asia, environmental, labour and human rights (broadly ‘green’) questions have been met by rising scepticism and worry about trade protectionism, just when the region’s record of containing deforestation and its “green premiums” or profits from stricter (Western) criteria exports have never been better. Drawing on fifteen years of observations while embedded with value-chains, this paper provides an analysis of key drivers and contexts informing forecasting for selected sustainable products from Southeast Asia: the ubiquitous palm oil (claimed to be in half of many supermarket products), natural rubber (used in gloves and tires), and solar panels. Beyond traditional supply-and-demand factors, the paper examines how oligopolies, oligarchies, and opinions impact the outlook. A hot topic is the EU’s regulatory push for smallholder-farmer inclusive supplies that are free of deforestation. How are Southeast Asians responding? Let’s consider why Indonesian tycoons and Thailand’s smallholders may be in pole position, how market share relates to market reputation, and the impact of US-China trade war issues. The paper also touches on the latest observations on ‘green’ chemicals and ‘green’ data centres in Malaysia, China’s ‘green’ (or not) BRI supply chains in Indonesia, and why China might desire certifications for a spiky stinky fruit.

Thumb -Session 3 - Vietnam's economic reforms-fotor-20240328143921

Whither Reform? The Political Economy of Vietnam’s Economic Reforms since Doi Moi 

Thursday 23 May, 2:00pm-3:30pm  

Speaker: Vũ-Thành Tự-Anh (Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management)

This paper analyses the feasibility and prospects of “second-round reform” in Vietnam. From the perspective of neoclassical economics, Vietnam can definitely maintain an economic growth rate of 7-8% in the next two decades, thereby achieving the goal of becoming a high-income country by 2019. However, from a political economy perspective, this goal is much more challenging. The Vietnamese party-state’s overarching goal is to achieve high rates of economic growth in order to maintain its performance legitimacy, while keeping intact its absolute political power. This fundamental political economy dilemma explains why Vietnam has adopted market-oriented reforms, compromised private ownership, allowed the functioning of markets to a certain extent, and actively integrated into the world economy. But, at the same time, the Vietnamese party-state has always tried to maintain a large SOE sector despite its indisputable inefficiency, and found various ways to subsidize and shield this sector from international competition even after Vietnam became a member of the WTO and joined CP-TPP.

This dualistic nature of Vietnam’s socialist-oriented market economy explains why the domestic private sector – the most significant contributor to Vietnam’s GDP growth, government budget, and new job creation – has been divided into two distinct groups. A small group of oligarchs with close ties to the party-state system has increasingly dominated economic activities, even in some areas considered to be of strategic importance, such as aviation and resource exploitation. The remaining 98% of private firms, including small and medium-sized enterprises, face discrimination and difficulties in accessing land, credit, and business opportunities. When the state economic sector is still considered the backbone of the economy, when a minority of oligarchs continuously expand through rent-seeking mainly in the real estate and financial sectors, and when the domestic private sector – despite its significant contribution to the economy – is rhetorically promoted but discriminated against in reality, there are many reasons to doubt the future of “second-round reform” in Vietnam.

ThumSession 4 - Indonesia's Natural Resource Sector-fotor-20240328143955

Jokowi’s Industrial Legacy: A Critical Reflection on ‘Success’ in Indonesia’s Natural Resource Sector 

Thursday 23 May, 3:45pm-5:15pm  

Speaker: Dr. Eve Warburton (Australian National University)

One of the principal economic legacies of Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is a (re)turn to resource-based industrialization. Over the course of his second and final term in office (2019-2024), state revenues have risen spectacularly on the back of the country’s mineral product exports, the result of a strict ban on the export of raw nickel ores that compelled domestic and foreign businesses to invest downstream. In the short term, added value from processed mineral exports improved the country’s balance of trade and helped Indonesia reach upper middle-income status in 2023—a major achievement for Jokowi in the twilight years of his presidency. A longer-term goal is for the nickel smelting sector to feed into a domestic electric vehicle (EV) battery industry that would place Indonesia at the economic centre of the region’s green energy transition. Thus, for the president and his ministers, downstream industrialisation is a major economic success story and source of nationalist pride.

This paper examines Jokowi’s industrial legacy in the resource sectors, asking how and for whom ‘success’ is measured. In doing so, the goal is to not only reflect critically on one of the president’s chief economic interventions, but also to bring into focus the nature of economic governance during his tenure. The paper points to four factors that help to explain the remarkable growth of Indonesia’s downstream industry since 2020, each of which is integral to the political economy of development under Jokowi more generally: the embrace of Chinese capital, the political rise and embeddedness of domestic extractive interests, recentralisation of economic governance, and the dismantling of accountability mechanisms to ensure unencumbered distribution of land and licenses. Then, having explained both the realisation of this downstream intervention, and the political economy conditions upon which it depended, the paper then reflects on what ‘success’ looks like for those at the periphery of Indonesia’s industrial boom, at sites of extraction and production. The paper suggests that Jokowi’s industrial legacy is an inequitable one. While major domestic firms are reaping the benefits of resource-based industrialization, downstream expansion has generated a predictable set of negative externalities—from human and labour rights abuses to land conflict and serious environmental damage.




Previous Years’ Forums

 LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2023 - 9-12 May  

Session I: Southeast Asia Economic Futures: Climbing up global value chains: leveraging FDI for economic development in Asia                                                     

Session II: The Future of Sand: the Comparative Geopolitics of Land Reclamation, the Environment, and Social Change 

Session III: Southeast Asia Urban FuturesSession                  

Session IV: Southeast Asia Research Futures: In Country Experiences       

Session V: Southeast Asia’s Political Futures               

Session VI: Southeast Asia Research: Challenges and Opportunities

Session VII: How People Compare: Cross Disciplinary Discussions 

Summary, programme, and recordings of the 2023 Forum


LSE Southeast Asia Week 2021 - 25-29 October

Session I: Environment and Politics in Southeast Asia: Presentations by the awardees of the SEAC Research Fund
Session II: Roundtable: Comparative Urbanism for Southeast Asia 
Session III: The Role of Philanthropy in a New Social Contract
Session IV: Work and Life in the COVID-19 Era: (Preliminary) findings from the SEAC Undergraduate Research Fellowship Projects
Session V: Society and Economy in Southeast Asia: Presentations by LSE PhD researchers

Summary, programme and recordings of the 2021 Forum


LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2020 - 26-30 October

Session I: Politics and Economics of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia
Session II: Migration and Mobility in the COVID-19 Era
Session III: ASEAS UK-SEAC Panels on ECR and Southeast Asia Research
Session IV: Whither Southeast Asia Research?: Roundtable with Centre Directors
Session V: Politics of City-Making in Southeast Asia
Session VI: Environmental Resilience and Southeast Asia

Summary, programme and recordings of the 2020 Forum


LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2019 - Tuesday 29th October

Keynote Lecture: Partnership and Sustainability for Thailand and ASEAN for the Future
Panel I - SEAC #urbanisation theme: Smart Cities in Southeast Asia 
Panel II - SEAC #connectivity theme: The impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on infrastructure and politics in Southeast Asia                          
Panel III -  SEAC #governance theme: Electoral politics in Southeast Asia from a grassroots perspective

Summary, programme and recordings the 2019 Forum

LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2018 - Monday 21st May

Keynote Lecture: ASEAN in a Contested World: Singapore's 2018 chairmanship priorities
Panel I – The Great Powers' Economic Engagement of Southeast Asia
Panel II – Economic Challenges and Risks in Southeast Asia
Panel III – Leadership and Political Futures
Panel IV – Myanmar: challenges and risks

Summary, programme and podcasts of the 2018 Forum

LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2017 - Monday 22nd May

Keynote Lecture: Southeast Asia in 2017: challenges and opportunities
Panel I – The ASEAN Economic Community: reality and myth
Panel II – ASEAN 50 Years and Regional Order
Taster session – Hypnotism and Javanese Magnetism
Panel III – Political Landscapes and Dynamics: Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
Panel IV – Political Change and Foreign Policy: Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines

Summary, programme and podcasts of the 2017 Forum

LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016 - Friday 13th May

Morning Keynote Lecture
Panel I – ASEAN Security
Panel II – Religion in Southeast Asia
Panel III – ASEAN Horizons
Panel IV – Inclusion and Exclusion in Southeast Asia
Evening Keynote Lecture

Summary, programme and podcasts of the 2016 Forum