30 May 2021

The Ian Chong Bookshelf: Academic Rigor, Sino-Asian Revelations, Real-World Relevance

Among my many blessings, it has been my good fortune to have enjoyed such a wonderful time in Princeton’s Politics Ph.D. program. My classmates there included Ian Chong, whom I’ve subsequently met up at with conferences across the United States and Asia. We’ve also overlapped as affiliates at Harvard and of the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program. Along the way, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Ian concerning both the discipline of scholarship and the real world issues that he elucidates with it. His sharp intellect is always instructive and his sense of humor is infectious. Informing Ian’s work is a deep empathy for the people it might somehow help through better understanding and policies, making him a public intellectual in the very best sense. So, if you haven’t done so already, please take a look at Ian’s publications and presentations below. Whatever your focus, I’m confident you’ll find much of interest and relevance that is simply unavailable anywhere else.


Dr. Ja Ian Chong is associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Chong’s work crosses the fields of international relations, comparative politics, and political sociology, with a focus on security issues relating to China and East Asia. He follows the interplay of social movements, politics, and foreign policy in East Asia closely. Dr. Chong was formerly was a 2019–20 Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar, 2013 Taiwan Fellow, 2012–13 East-West Center Asian Studies Fellow, and 2008–09 Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program fellow. He previously taught at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and worked with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He is an editor with the Singapore studies collective, AcademiaSG, and one of the founding editors of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. He received the 2012 NUS Faculty Award for Promising Researcher.

Dr. Chong’s work appears in a number of journals, edited volumes, and newspapers, including the China Quarterly, European Journal ofInternational Relations, International Security, and Security Studies. He is author of External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Thailand, Indonesia – 1893-1952 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), recipient of the 2013–14 Best Book Award from the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association.

The focus of Dr. Chong’s teaching and research is on international relations, especially IR theory, security, Chinese foreign policy, and international relations in the Asia-Pacific. Of particular interest to him are issues that stand at the nexus of international and domestic politics, such as influences on nationalism and the consequences of major power competition on the domestic politics of third countries. He also enjoys examining historical material in his research. In addition to his academic background, he has experience working in think-tanks both in Singapore and in the United States. As such, he also probes the relationship between political science theory and policy. He strongly believes that the two can inform each other.

Dr. Chong is currently working on two major projects. The first examines how responses to power transition by non-leading states aggregate to affect the acuteness of competition among leading states. He looks empirically at East Asia following World War II, after the Vietnam War, and after the end of the Cold War. A second explores the micro-processes behind elite capture and influence operations both historically and in the present-day. This project considers several Southeast Asia cases in comparative perspective to cases in Europe, Australasia, North America, and Northeast Asia looking at ethnic diaspora as well as business and political elites.

莊嘉穎現任新加坡國立大學政治系副教授。研究領域跨越國際關係、比較政、政治社會學等領域,對同盟結構、政治制度轉型、爭議政治、外力介入、亞洲安全、中國外交和中美關係等專題。曾擔任哈佛燕京學社訪問學人、International Studies Review副編輯、National Bureau of Asian Research旗下Maritime Awareness Project國際諮詢委員,東西方中心(East-West Center)亞洲學人、國際暨戰略研究中心(CSIS)研究員。莊嘉穎現為新加坡研究合作社AcademiaSG其中的編輯,也是Georgetown Journal of International Affairs創刊編輯之一。

學術著作在《世界經濟與政治》、Asian SecurityChina QuarterlyContemporary Southeast AsiaEast Asia Forum European Journal of International RelationsInternational SecuritySecurity StudiesThe National Interest以及《二十世紀中國》等刊物發表。專書《External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Thailand, Indonesia – 1893-1952 》(劍橋大學初版社,2012年)榮獲國際研究學會(International Studies Association)國際安全研究組(International Security Studies Section)2013/4年度最佳圖書獎。

Ja Ian Chong adalah profesor madya sains politik di Universiti Nasional Singapura (NUS).

Karya Dr Chong melintasi bidang hubungan antarabangsa, politik perbandingan, dan sosiologi politik, dengan fokus pada isu keselamatan yang berkaitan dengan China dan Asia Timur. Dia mengikuti interaksi gerakan sosial, politik, dan dasar luar di Asia Timur secara dekat. Dr. Chong sebelumnya adalah Visiting Scholar di Institut Harvard-Yenching pada 2019/20, Taiwan Fellow 2012/3, East-West Center Asian Studies Fellow 2012/3, dan 2008/9 Fellow di Program Princeton-Harvard China dan Dunia. Dia sebelumnya bekerja dengan Pusat Kajian Strategik dan Antarabangsa (CSIS) di Washington, D.C., Amerika Syarikat dan Institut Pertahanan dan Kajian Strategik (IDSS) di Singapura. Dia pada masa ini seorang penyunting dengan kolektif pengajian Singapura tersebut, AcademiaSG, dan salah satu penyunting pengasas untuk Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

Karya Dr. Chong muncul dalam sejumlah jurnal, jilid yang diedit, dan surat khabar, termasuk China Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations, International Security, dan Security Studies. Dia adalah pengarang Intervensi Luar dan Politik Pembentukan Negara: China, Thailand, Indonesia – 1893-1952, Cambridge University Press, 2012, penerima Anugerah Buku Terbaik 2013/4 dari Bahagian Pengajian Keselamatan Antarabangsa di Persatuan Pengajian Antarabangsa.

Research Interests

  • Security
  • External Intervention
  • Sovereignty
  • Nationalism
  • International and Domestic Political Institutions
  • Politics of Hegemony and Domination
  • Major Power Rivalry
  • International Relations and Politics of the Asia-Pacific
  • Chinese Foreign Policy
  • U.S.-China Relations
  • Chinese Politics
  • Political Liberalisation and Foreign and Security Policy
  • Alliance Politics
  • Contentious Politics
  • Social Movements
  • Taiwan
  • Hong Kong
  • Northeast and Southeast Asian regional politics
  • Influence operations

Teaching Areas

  • International Relations
  • Chinese Foreign Policy
  • International Relations of the Asia-Pacific
  • International Security
  • External Intervention
  • Sovereignty, State formation, and State-Building
  • Alliance Politics

Courses Taught:

  • China’s Foreign Policy
  • International Relations Graduate Field Seminar
  • International Relations in the Asia-Pacific
  • International Security
  • Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
  • State and Society



《建國與國際政治:近代中印泰主權國家建構比較史1893-1952》[鄺健銘 譯] 臺北:季風帶 2021

Mandarin Chinese-language translation of External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation with a new introduction, below:

為了《建國與國際政治――近代中印泰主權國家建構比較史(1893-1952)》(External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Indonesia, and Thailand, 1893–1952)的中譯版,我重新翻閱了多年前寫的文稿、筆記和收集的資料。當時研究的背景是美國進軍、占領阿富汗和伊拉克,不但推翻政權,還試圖重建政體和社會。這段殘酷的歷史,當時讓我對「主權」和「主權國」的源由起了疑問。畢竟,今天熟悉的「主權國」產生於十七世紀,早期現代歐洲的政治氛圍,其法理依據出自歐洲三十年宗教戰爭結束之際,參戰國簽署的《明斯特和約》(Treaty of Münster)和《奧斯納布呂克條約》(Treaty of Osnabrück)。兩份文件奠定了《威斯特伐利亞和約》(Peace of Westphalia)和現代「威斯特伐利亞式主權」的基礎。這種強調高度集權、領土自治和對外自主的現代政治組織模式,雖然早在十九世紀,就開始啟發許多不同民族和政治自決想像,但卻要等到二十世紀中葉後,才開始真正在世界各地落實。其中,有一件事情讓我十分好奇:包括中國在內,有如此多民族、國族主義運動,經常宣稱自己不但代表某種正義,背後還有強大的民意,那他們確立主權國家的歷程,又為什麼如此漫長和艱難?其他包括殖民地和帝國的政體和政治組織,面對民族、國族動員時,又怎麼能維持數十年, 甚至上百年?後來發現,現代主權的建立和持續,其實摻雜了相當的偶然性。對脆弱政體而言, 是否會形成主權國,經常取決於大國角逐下,所產生的衝突、抗衡、合作、干預,與「民族」、「國族」和「國家」意識的碰撞。中國今天的國家形態、台灣和香港面對的處境等,算是這些動態的一種案例。。。

(Click here to read full text of introduction.)


Ja Ian Chong, External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Indonesia, Thailand, 1893-1952 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

  • Best Book Award 2013/4, International Security Studies Section, International Studies Association

This book explores ways in which foreign intervention and external rivalries can affect the institutionalization of governance in weak states. When sufficiently competitive, foreign rivalries in a weak state can actually foster the political centralization, territoriality, and autonomy associated with state sovereignty. This counterintuitive finding comes from studying the collective effects of foreign contestation over a weak state as informed by changes in the expected opportunity cost of intervention for outside actors. When interveners associate high opportunity costs with intervention, they bolster sovereign statehood as a next best alternative to their worst fear—domination of that polity by adversaries. Sovereign statehood develops if foreign actors concurrently and consistently behave this way toward a weak state. This book evaluates that argument against three “least likely” cases—China, Indonesia, and Thailand between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.


Ja Ian Chong, “No Easy Answers: Southeast Asia and China’s Influence,” in Brian Fong, Wu Jieh-Min, and Andrew J. Nathan, eds., China’s Influences: Center-Periphery Tug-of-War across the Indo-Pacific (London: Routledge, 2020).

PRC influence in Southeast Asia can unsettle the region by heightening uncertainties and putting pressure on existing fault lines even as it promises economic growth and prosperity. China’s interests and actions intersect with deep-seated concerns about institutions, and political stability across Southeast Asia in ways that go beyond the commercial benefits from Chinese economic prominence. Beijing naturally seeks to advance its interests in the region and avert developments that negatively affect those concerns. Chinese pursuit of these objectives can erode the ability to of the main regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to promote region-wide collaboration and put pressure on the social compacts holding various polities together. Southeast Asian states need to carefully manage the effects that follow from the uneven distribution of gains, costs, and risks that come with enhanced engagement with China to ensure stable and sustainable cooperation. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Power in Comparison: Teaching and Studying Taiwan in Global Perspective,” American Journal of Chinese Studies 27.1 (April 2020): 52–57.

Taiwan is, in many ways, experiencing growing global visibility that is translating into more scholarly attention and interest. This situation results from Taiwan’s political liberalization and economic success which enables everything from sustained external contacts to artistic achievement and official outreach. An issue that now faces those committed to teaching Taiwan is how to consolidate and expand on existing awareness and concerns. One way to do so is to examine Taiwan-related topics in comparative perspective and actively bring it into discussions within academic disciplines and across different regions.

For social scientists, teaching Taiwan next to other cases and incorporating it into disciplinary debates raises the question: what is Taiwan a case of? Clearly establishing the conceptual bases for assessing Taiwan or Taiwan-based phenomena, alongside the cases with which they will undergo investigation, is crucial. Such considerations ground teaching with the intellectual rigor and methodological robustness that scholars and students expect and deserve. Careful comparison fosters theoretical innovation and the development of new perspectives that make Taiwan more accessible and relevant to students beyond area specialists. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “The Burdens of Ethnicity: Ethnic Chinese Communities in Singapore and Their Relations with China,” in Terence Chong, ed., Navigating Differences: Integration in Singapore (Singapore: Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2020), 165–85.

Communities in Singapore who trace their roots to what is today the PRC have a complex and sometimes difficult relationship with their place of ancestral origin. This was the case since migration to Singapore began en masse in the early nineteenth century. Much of the complication comes from how these communities and their diverse interests intersect with the concerns of other groups in Singapore, as well as politics and economics both locally and in China. The PRC’s recent global prominence and the efforts of its government to exercise influence externally muddies matters further for ethnic Chinese in Singapore. A solution is to develop a stronger sense of citizenship based around reasonable, substantive, and meaningful civic values and rights that transcend ethnicity, religion, and other narrower concerns. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “A Matter of Trust: Understanding Limited Support for Taiwan’s Defense Reform,” in Ryan Dunch and Ashley Esarey, eds., Taiwan in Dynamic Transition (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2020), 181–97.

Taiwan’s citizenry maintains a curious ambivalence toward military reform and modernization. It faces an increasingly powerful China that claims the right to use force against the island and builds future military operations against Taiwan integrally into its military planning. Despite this, there is limited public appetite for military spending, and defense related bud gets have been falling since the early 2000s, including support for projects that seek the transfer of more advanced technologies from the United States. These trends reflect a focus on doctrine, acquisitions, training, bureaucracy, and legislation when it comes to military and defense issues in Taiwan, including on reform.

There is relative inattention to civil-military relations, specifically the shedding of the military’s legacy as a tool for repression under martial law. Active participation in transitional justice efforts can help the military and Taiwan’s society come to terms with the former’s complicity, if not active role, during the White Terror, and allow for more active support of the military in Taiwan society. Such developments are an important next step in political reform for Taiwan’s military following its nationalization in the 1990s and key to enabling it to play a larger and more effective role in securing Taiwan in the face of growing threats. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Shifting Winds in Southeast Asia: Chinese Prominence and the Future of Regional Order,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Alison Szalwinski, and Michael Wills, eds., Strategic Asia 2019: China’s Expanding Strategic Ambitions (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asia Research, 2019), 143–74.


China’s growing economic, strategic, and political prominence have put it in a stronger position to shape developments in Southeast Asia. Beijing’s apparent disinterest in strategic restraint, the region’s inability to resolve collective action problems, and uncertainty over the future U.S. role in the region bolster China’s influence and preeminence there. Such trends reflect not just historically close ties between China and Southeast Asia but also China’s recent attempts to take the initiative in these relationships and divide the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Should the U.S. wish to retain an active forward presence in Southeast Asia, more direct, frequent, and intense friction with China is likely. Robust regional partnerships and a credible rules-based order are key to weathering such tensions.


  • China’s resurgence in the region, coupled with uncertainty about U.S. regional leadership, implies the continued erosion of ASEAN centrality, which in the past has helped promote regional calm. If Southeast Asian states wish to maintain regional autonomy and avoid being torn between the U.S. and China, they must overcome collective action problems.
  • ASEAN’s challenges in managing contentious U.S.-China relations mean there is mounting urgency for member states to decide whether to engage in serious organizational reform or adopt alternative institutional arrangements, including ones that may facilitate Chinese primacy.
  • The U.S. must more concretely articulate and implement its Indo-Pacific strategy in Southeast Asia. The viability of the U.S. position in the region depends on clarity, consistency, and direction with ASEAN, individual Southeast Asian states, and other regional actors. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Is ASEAN Still ‘In the Driver’s Seat’ or Asleep at the Wheel?East Asia Forum Quarterly 10.1 (January-March 2018): 3–5.

Over its history, ASEAN has reduced the possibility of war among its members and created a platform for member states to project their common concerns and to advance shared interests. ASEAN enabled what were relatively new, developing and in some cases small states collectively to play a sort of quasi-middle power role with which more powerful actors have to contend. But it may no longer be able to inhabit such a sweet spot.

Established at the height of the Cold War, ASEAN was entrenched around an understanding among conservative, anti-communist elites with at least some authoritarian sympathies. These elites accepted autonomy, mutual non-intervention, consensus on issues that required collective action and mutual restraint from the use of force as the basis for coordination, if not cooperation. Such commitments reduced tensions among member governments and enabled them to focus on consolidating domestic political authority, economic development and, where convenient, diplomatic cooperation.

ASEAN successfully carved out an area of steady economic growth and calm at a time when wars were raging in Indochina and when China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, external actors (including the major powers) accepted ASEAN prerogatives in Southeast Asia.

Riding on ASEAN’s Cold War successes, members consolidated the group’s position as East Asia’s premier regional organisation—due partially to the absence of similar arrangements in Northeast Asia. Other actors, including major powers like the United States, China and Japan, were therefore willing to accept ASEAN ‘centrality’ and its position ‘in the driver’s seat’ when it came to intra-regional cooperation.

These considerations characterised several ASEAN-focussed cooperation initiatives in East Asia between the 1990s and 2000s. They included the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN+3, the East Asian Summit and the multilateral Chiang Mai Initiative for currency swaps after the 1997–98 Asian Financial Crisis. The 1990s also saw ASEAN expand to cover most of Southeast Asia with the incorporation of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and even Vietnam—the grouping’s former adversary.

The question for ASEAN now is whether its formula for success remains relevant. Finding common ground on pressing issues has become a growing challenge, the usual platitudes about solidarity and centrality notwithstanding. Recent efforts to manage disputes have had limited success, as demonstrated by the decades-long processes surrounding the Declaration of Conduct of Parties and the Code of Conduct over the South China Sea. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Deconstructing Order in Southeast Asia in the Age of Trump,” in “Roundtable: The Trump Presidency and Southeast Asia,” Contemporary Southeast Asia39.1 (April 2017): 29–35.

With its primary stated goal of re-working the nature of America’s relationship with the rest of the world, the administration of President Donald Trump comes at an awkward time for Southeast Asia. Regional states are at a moment where they are adjusting domestic politics, their relationships with each other and the main inter-governmental organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They are also responding to China, whose role in the region is evolving as Beijing moves into a new stage in its decades-long development into a major world power that is more ready to take robust positions on issues where its interests sometimes diverge with those of its neighbours. Amid these changes, Washington seems to be looking to move away from its longstanding commitment to liberalizing trade and investment in Asia, while taking a more openly muscular stance on security. Specifically, the United States under Trump is pondering possibilities for altering the longstanding basis for its economic and security exchanges with China, which includes adopting policies that differ more starkly from, or even oppose, those of Beijing.

Even though it is early days for the Trump administration, current developments suggest good reason to expect uncertainty, possibly even some turmoil, at least in the short term. The regional security and economic architectures in Southeast Asia—primarily the post-World War II US-backed order on the one hand and ASEAN and various arrangements built around it on the other–are especially unprepared for addressing major shocks or crises at this moment. Cleavages among ASEAN members and limited institutional capacity constrain the responses regional actors can take collectively, and may dampen individual reactions as well. Even though armed conflict among Southeast Asian countries remains unlikely, effective regional cooperation in the face of greater instability and uncertainty may be difficult to achieve and sustain without consistent American support. Given that Trump and his team still have ample time to learn, there is, of course, a possibility that the new administration can adapt to circumstances in Southeast Asia specifically, and the Asia Pacific more broadly.

The American Foundations of Regional Architecture

Regional cooperation in Southeast Asia continues to rest on the US-sponsored liberal international order, supplemented by ASEAN and its affiliated mechanisms. Southeast Asian states have experienced significant economic growth since the end of the Second World War and after the Cold War. Underpinning this economic success story is a cycle that ties capital from North America, Europe and Japan, as well as more recently South Korea and Taiwan, to raw materials and production networks across Asia that manufacture for North American and European consumers. Making this possible is a constant lowering of trade and investment barriers driven by a belief in the benefits of enterprise and wealth creation not only for their own sakes, but also as facilitators of social and political stability. Much of Southeast Asia’s prosperity—and indeed challenges with the environment and inequality—over the past seven or so decades come from being key economic nodes in the American-backed liberal international order.

Overseeing this economic order are the US-backed Bretton Woods institutions — the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) — which maintain the basic governing principles of the world economic system. Given that the US dollar denominates much of the world’s commercial activity, the US Federal Reserve too plays a critical role in the world economy via its influence over US interest rates. Despite talk of having alternative arrangements and institutions manage the world economy, the Bretton Woods institutions and the US dollar remain irreplaceable for the time being. Regional initiatives such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), intra- and extra-ASEAN free trade agreements, and even calls for the Chinese yuan to denominate regional trade or even become a reserve currency, operate as part of the liberal economic order and do not provide a substitute. Being integrated in the world economy means that Southeast Asia remains subject to the prevailing international economic order and its ordering principles. … … …


Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall, “One Thing Leads to Another: Making Sense of East Asia’s Repeated Tensions,” Asian Security 13.1 (March 2017): 20–40.

Both the East and Southeast China Seas have been home to a series of repeated episodes of tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its neighbors. Much of the existing literature either treats such episodes as isolated data points or as the manifestation of underlying structural factors. In this paper, we argue that repeated tensions can have important effects on subsequent interactions, generating emergent dynamics with dangerous consequences. What is more, we believe those dynamics to already be in play in several of the disputes within East Asia today. Examining recent developments in PRC-Japan and PRC-Philippines relations, we seek to shed light on how iterated episodes of tension are shaping the trajectory of interactions in both dyads. We believe these insights can inform efforts to understand relations in the region and beyond, given the growing frequency and intensity of repeated tensions among actors. … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “America’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance and the Hazards of Hedging,” in David W.F. Huang, ed., Asia-Pacific Countries and the U.S. Rebalancing Strategy (London: PalgraveMacMillan, 2016), 155–73.

Hedging is a common approach that regional states in the Asia-Pacific seek to adopt in order to navigate between an ascendant China and a still dominant USA. Undergirding such a strategy is a desire among regional states to avoid “choosing” between the USA and China. However, there tends to be less policy and scholarly attention paid to how hedging strategies actually fare in securing the interests of regional states during power transition. This is of particular concern given the increasing tensions that seem to be afflicting the Asia-Pacific in spite of efforts by regional states to hedge, particularly following the American rebalance to Asia. This chapter examines the downside risks that may result from efforts by regional states to hedge between China and the USA. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Popular Narratives versus History: Implications for an Emergent China,” European Journal of International Relations 20.4 (December 2014): 939–64.

Closely associated with China’s growing prominence in international politics are discussions about how to understand Chinese history, and how such perspectives inform the way a stronger China may relate to the rest of the world. This article examines two narratives as cases, and considers how they fit against more careful historical scholarship. The first is the nationalist narrative dealing with Qing and Republican history, and the second is the narrative on the Chinese world order. Analyses of Chinese nationalism tend to see a more powerful China as being more assertive internationally, based in part on a belief in the need to address and overcome past wrongs. Studies of historical regional systems in Asia point to the role that a peaceful ‘Confucian’ ethos played in sustaining a stable Chinese-led order, and highlight the promise it holds for checking regional and international tensions. The two perspectives create an obvious tension when trying to understand China’s rise, which can suggest that using historical viewpoints to understand contemporary developments may be doomed to incoherence. This article argues that difficulties in applying knowledge of the past to analyses of China’s role in contemporary world politics indicate a relative inattentiveness to Chinese and Asian history. It illustrates how the nature of China’s rise may be more contingent on the external environment that it faces than popular received wisdom may indicate. The article suggests that a more extensive engagement with historical research and historiography can augment and enrich attempts to appreciate the context surrounding China’s rise. … … …


Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall,反覆性緊張的後果研究:以四個東亞雙邊爭端為例」 [A Study on the Consequences of Repeated Tensions: Examining Several Cases of Dyadic Disputes in East Asia], World Economics and Politics (《世界經濟與政治》) 9 (2014): 50–74.

In this paper, we build on existing work on evolving rivalries, learning, and spiral models, but adding additional insights from more recent work on emotions within international relations. We believe that iterated, unresolved episodes of tension need to be viewed in an integrated fashion, whereby the previous event sets the context for the next. With each outbreak of tension, the political terrain shifts, and knowing how and where these shifts can occur can help to explain the dangers that may subsequently emerge. More specifically, we highlight mechanisms through which iterative episodes of tension can interact with known psychological dynamics to shape political attitudes, perceptions of new information, and also the political incentives actors face. In doing so, we offer a cautionary warning to those who would assume that crises are resolved when tensions subside. … … …


Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall, “The Lessons of 1914 for East Asia Today? Missing the Trees for the Forest,” International Security 39.1 (Summer 2014): 7–43.

A century has passed since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo set in motion a chain of events that would eventually convulse Europe in war. Possibly no conflict has been the focus of more scholarly attention. The questions of how and why European states came to abandon peaceful coexistence for four years of armed hostilities—ending tens of millions of lives and several imperial dynasties—have captivated historians and international relations scholars alike.

Today, Europe appears far removed from the precipice off which it fell a century ago. If anything, most European states currently seem more concerned about the damage potentially caused by financial instruments than instruments of war. On a global scale, the destructive power of contemporary weaponry so dwarfs armaments of that earlier era that some scholars have argued great power war to be obsolete.1 Additionally, the international community has established international institutions, forums, and consultative mechanisms to channel conflict away from the battlefield and into the conference room.

Yet, not only do the great power relations of that era persist in intriguing scholars; as Steven Miller and Sean Lynn-Jones observe, they also continue to “haunt,” for “they raise troubling doubts about our ability to conduct affairs of state safely in an international environment plagued by a continuing risk of war.”2 In many ways, these doubts have assumed a renewed salience as the world enters an era of significant ambiguity. Possibly foremost among the sources of this ambiguity is the economic and military growth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a development that has introduced uncertainty into the strategic relations among great powers, particularly the PRC and the United States, and serves as a reminder that history may be far from over.

Indeed, there would seem to be striking parallels between the situation facing the PRC and the United States in this century to that of Imperial Germany and Great Britain at the beginning of the last. Both situations involve late developing states confronting entrenched liberal great powers in positions of global military dominance. In the common narrative of the latter pair, Imperial Germany—dissatisfied with its lot in the world, seeking to expand its influence, generate a global presence, and “take its place in the sun”—set itself on a path to conflict with an entrenched yet declining Great Britain wary to relinquish its position. The result was deteriorating relations, security competition, and finally the tragic outbreak of World War I.

The lesson that emerges from this analogy is thus a worrying one, pointing to the dangers of war between a rising and an established power. It encourages observers to be on the lookout for possible signs of dissatisfaction in the PRC, to question whether it is seeking to dethrone the United States or contest the existing global order in ways similar to Germany a century ago. Much work has already been done on this topic; in fact, within the community of international relations scholars, it has arguably had a key role in framing debates about the future of the PRC in the international system.3 We believe, however, the analogy across these two great power dyads to be of limited use. We reach this conclusion not only because of contextual differences between the lead-up to World War I and the present that many scholars of international relations have already identified. It is also because of the more general way in which analogies can function to limit and distort the comprehension of problems. That said, we believe that the experience of World War I itself remains rife with lessons possibly more relevant now than ever. The outbreak of World War I was a complex, yet contingent, event to which multiple factors contributed, absent any one of which history might have unfolded quite differently. Although not necessarily portents of another full-scale world war, the factors we identify do have the potential to exacerbate the risk of tensions or increase the likelihood of conflict in East Asia. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Chinese Nationalism Reconsidered,” in Kate Zhou, Shelley Rigger, and Lynn T. White, III, eds., Democratization in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia? Local and National Perspectives (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014), 232-47.

A pervasive narrative for the years from the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the mid-twentieth century is that it marks China’s “Century of National Humiliation” by external powers. According to this view, military defeat, foreign economic and political domination, and domestic upheaval characterized this period. What follows is that China emerged from this dishonor with victory over Japan during World War II and the Communist Revolution. This position suggests that the Chinese experience of success rests on persistently struggling for political unity and national interest even against the greatest of odds.1 An obvious implication of this understanding is that the Chinese people and state should assert what is, in their view, “right.” I propose to highlight not just recollections of China emerging from a position of purported weakness in this chapter, but to furnish more historical context and detail about how this development unfolded. I pay particular attention to tensions that may exist between popular nationalist-influenced recollections of key events during the “century of humiliation” and data garnered from closer historical analyses of these episodes.2 Such an approach can underscore some of the constraints and pressures nationalist-based mobilization and resistance face. This can assist in underlining some of the key dynamics that helped to shape contemporary Chinese nationalism and its effects on today’s Chinese foreign as well as domestic policy.

To examine this issue, I begin by briefly recapping key features common to popular nationalist understandings of China’s recent past before examining where these accounts diverge from recent historical research and discussing the implications of such differences. Exploring the range of divergence in expressions of nationalism in China may prove particularly fruitful given its apparent influence on that polity’s modern history and current development. Received wisdom, at least among political scientists and policy analysts, tends to take Chinese nationalism as especially forceful, immutable, and consistent, varying perhaps only in intensity over particular issues and during specific moments in time. Significant departures from this position in the historical record may suggest that much of this potency may depend substantively on historical contingency and degrees of success in purposeful popular mobilization. This may imply that Chinese nationalism may only be as much of an impediment to cooperation and even compromise as prominent interested parties and groups in China allow, especially over longer time horizons. That mainstream Chinese nationalist accounts show substantial malleability implies that other nationalist perspectives too may be similarly subject to effective political machinations, much like many widely-held beliefs. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Malaysia and Singapore’s Online Response to U.S. ‘Rebalancing’,” Asia Politics and Policy 5.2 (April 2013): 314–47.

If there is one thing about the online response to the United States’ “rebalance” to Asia in Singapore and Malaysia, it is the lack of sustained popular discussion. Most vocal on the topic are professional pieces by foreign policy-related think tanks and institutions. The professional sites tend to offer more systematic analyses of the rebalance and broader related issues. In comparison, nonprofessional commentary on blogs and other sites tend to be event-driven and focuses on particular episodes relating to the rebalance. Readers of the nonprofessional sites tend to be members of the public with a general interest in current affairs, but not necessarily regional or international politics.

Professional, Institutional Sites

Web sites operated by think tanks in Malaysia and Singapore contain some in-depth material on the U.S. rebalance, but more generally, information on U.S.-East Asian relations and U.S.-China relations. Good examples of these Web sites are those of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS; http://www.rsis.edu.sg/), the Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia (http://www.isis.org.my/), and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (http://siiaonline.org/content.aspx?page=Home). These sites feature pieces that examine everything from the overall strategic outlook on the region to analyses of specific policies. For instance, the ISIS Web site featured an article by Firdaos Rosli (2012) that came out in New Straits Times: “Which Trade Pact Should We Pick?” The article tried to explore the pros and cons of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which respectively reflect the U.S. rebalance and regional responses. Likewise, RSIS Commentaries regularly carry pieces considering the various aspects of tensions in the South China Sea, including the U.S. and Chinese roles.

Mostly written by academics and policy makers, these sites tend to be reference points for specialist debates about the rebalance and U.S.-China relations. Indeed, the official affiliations of some of the authors published by these sites suggest that they are fora for floating trial balloons or the informal interpretation of official positions. Authors are sometimes officials or active participants in quasi-official track two or….  … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “China-Southeast Asian Relations since the Cold War,” in Andrew T.H. Tan, ed., East and South-East Asia: International Relations and Security Perspectives (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013).

China’s ties with Southeast Asia since the Cold War may anticipate some of the broader trends in Chinese foreign policy. Of note, may be Beijing’s efforts to navigate between assurance and assertiveness when trying to work with smaller actors as China becomes a major world power. Southeast Asia’s physical proximity to China may make the advantages and constraints of power asymmetry especially acute for the various governments, including Beijing. China’s movement from cautious economic engagement in Southeast Asia from the early 1990s to multilateralism between the late 1990s and late 2000s through its more muscular policy from the late 2000s may be representative of an evolving foreign policy outlook. In this regard, the development of China’s relations with Southeast Asia from the end of the Cold War may be worth closer scrutiny. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “How External Intervention Made the Sovereign State: Foreign Rivalries, Local Complicity, and State Formation in Weak Polities,” Security Studies 19.4 (October–December 2010): 623–55.

From post-World War II decolonization to establishing order in war-torn polities today, external intervention can play an important role in fostering sovereign statehood in weak states. Much attention in this regard emphasizes local reactions to outside pressures. This article augments these perspectives by drawing attention to ways that foreign actors may affect the development of sovereignty through their efforts to work with various domestic groups. Structured comparisons of China and Indonesia during the early to mid-twentieth century suggest that active external intercession into domestic politics can collectively help to shape when and how sovereignty develops. As these are least likely cases for intervention to affect sovereign state making, the importance of foreign actors indicates a need to reconceptualize the effects of outside influences on sovereignty creation more broadly. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Lost in Transition, or Why Non-Leading States Should Concern Washington and Beijing,” East Asia Forum Quarterly 2.2 (July-September 2010.

Power transitions in international relations—real or perceived—are unsettling. This is especially so for non-leading states. Their interests depend on shifts in the international system that they cannot shape. Leading powers should, however, pay attention to how non-leading states react to expectations of change in the global political environment. Their reactions, especially when considered together, can exacerbate or moderate security dilemmas among the leading powers and has the potential to affect regional and even systemic stability. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Foreign Intervention and the Limiting of Fragmentation in the Late Qing and Early Republic, 1893 – 1922,” Twentieth Century China35.1 (November 2009): 75–98.

This article examines why and how persistent political fragmentation existed alongside continued centralization in late Qing and early Republican China. By analyzing new archival material and existing scholarship, the piece argues that external intervention helped preserve the viability of a single Chinese state even as the same phenomenon also spurred ongoing fractionalization. Because major powers’ governments generally saw China as an area of secondary strategic import, they tried to avoid armed conflict over the polity and seek accommodation. Since outside powers diverged in their objectives, they settled on sponsoring indigenous partners, notably various militarists as well as the Chinese Nationalists, to sustain a degree of central government rule alongside substantial regional autonomy. In reconsidering the effects of foreign intervention, this article engages the discussion on political consolidation in the late Qing and early Republic, and suggests that overly stressing integration or division tends to present incomplete accounts of the issue.


The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been. —Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi).1

What is remarkable about China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is that it held together. Given the various internal and external pressures, the polity appeared to be heading toward complete and utter disintegration. Population expansion, a series of rebellions and natural disasters, and an erosion of central government capabilities pushed at the seams from within.2 From without, foreign powers looked set to partition the Chinese polity just as they did everywhere from Africa to Southeast Asia—this was, after all, the high age of imperialism. The question, then, is how the late Qing and early Republic maintained sufficient political unity to provide the foundations for the later development of a centralized, sovereign Chinese state in spite of these pressures.

The key to China’s resilience against complete fragmentation between the end of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth lay in the nature of external competition over and intervention into the polity. That the foreign governments most active in and around China generally saw it as an area of secondary import, and not worth a major armed conflict, gave the various outside powers a stake in seeking settlements among themselves. This brought simultaneous external financial, economic, and even military backing for central governments as well as various regional administrations, a dynamic that kept the Chinese polity whole even as it deepened fractures across the country. By highlighting the role of foreign actors in holding China together even as they simultaneously fostered growing fractiousness, this article takes seriously the multifaceted characteristics of external intercession into domestic politics. In doing so, I forward a perspective that locates the development of the modern Chinese state more fully within the global context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.3

That external intervention helped hold China together did not exclude it from contributing to the breakdown in central government rule. The peculiarities of major power competition over the Chinese polity produced two countervailing forms of pressure. On one hand, major powers like Germany, Japan, Russia, and France extended financial aid, military assistance, and political support to various local actors within their respective regions of interest in efforts to exclude rivals from these areas. This gave local political agents the wherewithal to stand up to the central government, whether it was under the Qing court or a militarist clique. On the other hand, largely British and American attempts to avoid disadvantaged access vis-à-vis the other great powers brought attempts to shore up central government rule through the provision of economic as well as political backing to those in power at the capital. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, 〈主權國的興起與世界政治架構: 現代主權在華夏的誕生〉[“The International System and the Emergence of the Sovereign State: The Birth of the Modern Sovereign State in the Chinese World”], in 《天體、生體與國體:迴向世界的漢學》[Heavenly Bodies, Physical Bodies, and Political Bodies: Sinology Faces the World], 祝平次 楊儒賓 [Chu Ping-tzu and Yang Rur-bin, eds.], (台北 [Taipei]: 國立台灣大學出版中心 [National Taiwan University Publishing Centre],  2005 [94][2005]), 407–57.

「現代化」與「對外」主權的興起:華夏政治觀面對國際現實的一刻 「對外主權」,在今天中國政治思想中佔了一定的地位。任何有中華文化背景的政治實體,都不自覺地為了本身的權益,竭力訴求主權自主,限制或杜絕外來勢力干預,及確保國際間法律平等待遇。這反映了它們在「對外主權」觀念上的基本共識。 為什麼要用「對外主權」這個名詞?確切地說「主權」是個雙面的觀念,它有「對外」和「對內」兩方面的功能:對內,它是一個行政體制,在明確的地理範圍之內擁有絶對的統治權,如立法、施政、司法、警察和國防等;對外,它代表境內人民及各個團體,處理境外事物。 事實上,今天國際上所遵守的「對外主權」,是從一系列不同的概念沿革而成,如「明訂版圖界線」、「版圖界線的不可侵犯」、「政治行為自主」、「各國法律平等」等。而以上的概念,在廿世紀前,「前現代」中國政治思想中卻非常罕見。當時「對外主權」的概念,是源自十七世紀的歐洲,然後隨著辛亥革命、五四運動、北伐、國共內戰等社會、政治、思想「現代化」的過程逐漸發展演變,成為今天中國政治的主流思想。無論是處理疆域問題、國際交流、或尋求國際認同的時侯,强調「對外主權」幾乎成為「現代」中國政治的一個特徵。這套產生在三百多年前的觀念,究竟如何飄洋過海,滲入中華文化及華人社會,以至今天產生如此重大的影響,是本文所關注的要點。 本文計劃以廿世紀初的思潮和政治辯論為主要題材,設法深入瞭解「對外主權」的觀念,在廿世紀中國政治中的形成,立足和發展。並探討,它如何在現代中國政治中,取得如此重要的地位。本文將以「現代」具有中華文化背景政治實體處理對外關係的方式為重點,並不打算以「現代民族主義」的觀點審視,介時希望能提出不同的見解。 為擅明以上過程,必須略述廿世紀初中國的大環境,列強壓境,中國不得不攺變一貫對外政治架構,從宗主國的地位驟然降到倍受强權欺凌的劣勢。當時羣情激憤,對外關係構想層出不窮,包括主權外交、共產國際、投靠列強、甚至無政府主義等。最後,行使的是以「對外主權」為概念的主權外交。 本文將從以下三個角度,研析這個概念在中國的興起。第一,因為無法抗拒當時的國際形勢,被迫接受一個由西方列強擬定,以照顧它們利益為主旨的外交框架。第二,純粹出於提升行政以及經濟效應。第三,知識份子和政治菁英追求「現代化」的結果。 本文希望經過研習和觀察,能進一步理解「對外主權」的概念,和它在以中華文化為背景的政治實體上的地位和影響,並能提出看法及意見。… … …


Ja Ian Chong and LAM Peng Er, “Japan-Taiwan Relations: Between Affinity and Reality,” Asian Affairs: An American Review 30.4 (Winter 2004): 249–67. (Note errata on authorship listed in next issue).

This paper examines the ingredients for the affinity between Taiwan and Japan: a shared history, which began when Taiwan became the first colony of Japan; common values; economic ties; strategic alignment; and political and social networks. The authors then examine the limits of this relationship. The paper address the implications of this multifaceted relationship for stability in East Asia. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Testing Alternative Responses to Power Preponderance: A Look at the Asia-Pacific,” Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies Working Paper Series 60 (January 2004).

In an earlier piece entitled, “Revisiting Responses to Power Preponderance: Beyond Balancing and Bandwagoning”, the author developed four alternative responses to power preponderance that fell outside the traditional international relations framework of balancing and bandwagoning. The four responses are namely binding, buffering, bonding and beleaguering. The previous work argued that states might broadly adopt these four responses to preponderant power depending on their relative power next to the leading state and the level of integration with the world system.

In this follow-on work, the author tries to test the above conceptual argument against empirical evidence. To do so, this paper looks at five case studies, China, Taiwan, Singapore, North Korea and Australia during the past decade-and-a-half of American unipolarity. This choice of the four East Asian cases aims to vary power and integration while holding potential intervening variables such as culture, geography, and history constant. Australia is a control case as it differs from the four East Asian cases in geography, history, and culture.

This paper finds that non-leading states respond to power preponderance along the intervals of power and integration as predicted by the argument. However, this study also finds that state responses to power preponderance do not fit perfectly within the categories laid out by the argument. States often display some mixture of strategic responses even if they are inclined towards one approach. Nonetheless, such variation in response appears to be unsystematic and fluctuates according to the specific historical contingencies of each case.

Although the paper argues that relative power and integration play an important role in shaping responses to power preponderance, it leaves open the possibility that prior state choices, particularly on normative issues, can affect power and integration. The paper concludes by suggesting that the collective and cumulative effects of alternative responses to power preponderance may affect the persistence of unipolarity. As such, the paper also calls for further study into the reactions of lesser powers to preponderant power. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Revisiting Responses to Power Preponderance: Beyond the Balancing-Bandwagoning Dichotomy,” Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies Working Paper Series 54 (November 2003).

Since the 1990s, there has been a growing body of literature in international relations that looks at the unipolar world order that emerged from the ashes of the Cold War. Most of these works, however, tend to focus on describing the characteristics of this unipolar world or predicting its longevity. This working paper contends that such approaches do not pay adequate attention to how non-leading states in the international system are attempting to respond to American primacy of power in this age of unipolarity. The author argues that conventional conceptions of international politics that frame state reactions to superior power within the bounds of balancing and bandwagoning are inadequate to understand how state actors are trying to advance and preserve interests in relation to preponderant American power.

As such, this paper tries to argue that states try to forward and defend interests in relation to the system leader based on power relative to the pre-eminent state and integration in the world system. Power, on one hand, defines the capability of second-tier states to act, while integration, on the other, helps determine the incentives and costs of different actions. On the basis of relative power and integration, the paper identifies four possible alternative conceptualisations of alternative strategies to balancing and bandwagoning—buffering, bonding, binding, and beleaguering. It goes on to suggest that the tendency of states to pursue these various approaches to advancing and defending interests may have an impact on the nature and even duration of the current unipolar order.

Although this paper takes seriously the structural perspective in considering responses to dealing with the problem created by highly asymmetric power realities that lie beyond the balancing-bandwagoning dichotomy, it does not rule out the possibility that other factors may also affect state action. It accepts that a states power and level of integration are highly dependent on prior decisions within the polity that may rest on ideational and contingent material realities. The argument of this paper also does not rule out the effects of path dependence from previous historical events specific to each state. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “ASEAN’s Non-Intervention and the Myanmar Conundrum,” ASEAN Focus (30 March 2021), 6-7.

Mutual non-intervention is a core ASEAN tenet that together with consensus decision-making, respect for sovereign autonomy and peaceful resolution of differences form the operating principles of the grouping, as codified in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). The February 1 coup d’état in Myanmar and the Tatmadaw’s violent suppression of opposition to its power grab, however, highlights the challenges and risks that strict adherence to non-intervention can pose to ASEAN. The situation in Myanmar and its broader consequences provide a pressing reminder of the need for ASEAN to consider, perhaps even develop, greater flexibility and precision in its conceptualization and application of non-intervention. Reform could enable ASEAN to serve its members more fully in a world where the nature of tumult and uncertainty departs from past Cold War experiences. After all, an organisation’s relevance rests on its ability to fulfil its key stakeholders’ ongoing needs rather than just holding onto the past … … ….


Ja Ian Chong,「緬甸軍事政變,替「不干涉內正」的東協與最大外資新加坡帶來進退兩難的挑戰」[Myanmar’s Military Coup Places “Non-Interventionist” ASEAN and Biggest Investor Singapore in Difficult Positions] 《關鍵評論》[The News Lens International] (18 February 2021). 



這次軍事政變凸顯了東協的種種內部分歧。東協在1967年的成立,可以追溯到當時同樣是保守、反共、發展型威權主義(Developmental Authoritarianism)的原成員國——印尼、菲律賓、馬來西亞、泰國和新加坡,當時這幾個國家決定攜手抵制因越戰而在中南半島崛起的共產黨勢力,而汶萊則是在1984年獨立後加入東協。

50多年後的今天,武裝共產革命的威脅不再存在,一些原成員國的經濟和政治結構有所改變,東協在上世紀90年代還新增了緬甸、柬埔寨、寮國和越南幾個會員國。這些改變重組了東協內部的利益結構,強調共識、互不干涉和自主。然而沒有明確共同政治價值的東南亞國家,更難在任何議題上找到共鳴。緬甸國防軍(Tatmadaw,以下簡稱塔瑪都)奪權,恐為東協成員國帶來難以克服的挑戰。。。 。。。 。。。


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Steve Chan, Thucydides Trap? Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relations (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2020); ISSF Roundtable 12-2, H-Diplo, 9 November 2020.

… … … A main thrust in the volume is the argument that American acceptance of status adjustment is key to avoiding conflict since the PRC does not have revisionist intentions.Rather, it is the United States, especially under the Trump administration, that is unsettling the existing international order and stability with withdrawal from international arms control treaties and voting against the UN General Assembly majority (134-141).I am left wondering why a natural status adjustment will not occur as the United States limits its own institutional participation, allowing the PRC’s relative prominence to grow by default.Additionally, whatever the problems of the Trump administration’s policies, its actions say little about the Xi leadership’s intentions given the opacity of the current Chinese political system.The PRC may have made declarations in support of the international system and joined various international organizations, but Chan does not elaborate on why he believes such steps equate to China committing to the sorts of strategic restraint that are needed to maintain order (122, 134-8).[6] Further explanation can make Chan’s case more persuasive.

Apart from outright lying, actors can have a range of motivations and possibilities for participating in organizations, not all of which conform to the overall interests of the grouping or all its members.Among other things, actors may use participation to frame issues, change agendas, and block decisions.Such effects are particularly pronounced when it comes to powerful actors and applies to the PRC as much as it does to the United States.Indeed, the ongoing U.S.-China tussles over the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and World Intellectual Property Organization may indicate the presence of such machinations.Even if there is acceptance of existing arrangements, rules, and international law on Beijing’s part today, Chan admits that there is nothing to stop a change of heart and reneging on China’s part.[7]

Indications exist that the Xi leadership may be less satisfied with the status quo than Chan claims given that current PRC actions push up against not only the United States and Taiwan.South Korea reported economic punishment from China as a result of the deployment of a missile defense system to guard against possible North Korean attacks and repeated dangerous behavior by Chinese fishing vessels.[8] Japan expressed concern over increased naval and aerial activity by PRC assets in and over contested areas.[9] Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam indicate growing PRC harassment of their fishing and other civilian vessels in the South China Sea, which is notable given that Indonesia and the PRC do not have overlapping territorial claims.[10] Then there are tensions along the Sino-Indian border that recently resulted in deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops.[11]

Current PRC behavior is worrisome for regional actors in other ways as well.Australia reports economic pressure for not conforming to Beijing’s preferences on pushing for an open investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and complaining about PRC efforts to influence its internal politics.[12] Along with Canada, Australia saw citizens detained and charged for illegal activities under suspicious circumstances.[13] Singapore too faced Chinese state pressure over its insistence on adherence the rule of law over the arbitration over the South China Sea brought by the Philippines against the PRC.[14] That such issues do not receive more treatment by Chan is curious since they raise questions about PRC’s commitment to self-restraint and can potentially trigger the chain-ganging effects on U.S.-China ties that Chan warns readers about (21-22, 211-215). Such friction can potentially harden positions and raise the stakes over an issue such that prevailing becomes more tied to status and other concerns, driving more aggressive and even revisionist behavior.[15]

Chan’s finding that misplaced worries about the PRC and its intentions stem in part from misunderstandings of perspectives on international politics that are informed by theories from “the West” rather than China deserves elaboration and debate.So-called “Western” international relations theories often have parallels in the Chinese tradition, broadly construed.Work analyzing Spring and Autumn, Warring States, Song, and Ming documents indicate that the strategic thought that is prominent in these periods closely resembles statecraft familiar to those in the contemporary “West.”[16] Texts as varied as the Han-era annals Records of the Grand Historian and the Ming-era fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms will suggest the same.[17] Parallels between “Western” and “Chinese” approaches to politics are unsurprising. Several millennia of collective human experience, thought, and debate over statecraft, conflict, as well as governance are almost certainly bound to produce similarities in responses.

Dividing the world into “Western” and “Chinese” views of the world ignores the fact the PRC has disagreements with ostensibly “non-Western” polities such as India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, each with their own distinct philosophical traditions.[18] Also, despite sharing cultural origins, people in the PRC and on Taiwan disagree fundamentally issues of political values and rights, not the relatively simple issues of who should rule China or what a Chinese state should entail geographically.[19] Moreover, the PRC’s ruling Chinese Communist Party draws at least some of its inspiration from European thinkers in the form of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.Successive dynasties from historical China also proved themselves very adept at conquest—that is how regimes and empires get built.[20] Attributing tensions between the United States and PRC to culture suggests an overly monolithic view of the rich and varied philosophical and political traditions both major powers draw from, giving them less credit than is due.[21]

To claim that contemporary international scholarship and U.S. policy are unable to adequately understand China because they are “Western” may oversimplify the nature and seriousness of problems dogging U.S.-China relations and their consequences for the world.Relegating difference to culture is not only Orientalizing, it can encourage a misplaced expectation that understanding can bring some sort of happy, mutually acceptable outcome. Perhaps Beijing and Washington understand each other well.They simply disagree fundamentally over values and interests in ways that make finding mutually acceptable accommodation increasingly difficult.This does not have to imply that either side is morally superior or normatively “better” than the other, just that understanding provides little promise for improving relations and avoiding confrontation.Better accounting for such possibilities invites fuller consideration of the roles that agency and contingency play in major power relations, two features that Chan clearly identifies as critical in the volume.

Thucydides’s Trap? deserves much credit for grappling with important, pressing, and difficult questions about the drivers behind the downturn in U.S.-China relations and possible ways to address this slide.Yet, Chan’s outlook is more similar to Graham Allison’s than he initially lets on. Allison’s call for creative statecraft is possible only if the United States and China are not locked in a structural situation which neither can escape or beset by contingent circumstances that prevents Washington and Beijing from effectively exercising the agency Chan believes is central. Chan offers some insight when he points to divergences in perspectives between Washington and Beijing but may be overly limiting the ways he conceives of effects of culture and socialization.Likewise, the volume can go further in conceptualizing the various ways third parties such as regional actors and international organizations can affect U.S.-China ties, given that world politics is not just major powers going at each other—a fact both Chan and Allison recognize. Major power interactions simply do not occur in a vacuum.Such dynamics may reinforce competition as much as ameliorate them, but their effects await further clarification and explanation. … … …


Ja Ian Chong,「回顧新加坡與中國建交三十年:美中新冷戰下,新加坡還能『不選邊站』嗎?」[Reviewing 30 Years of Singapore-China Relations: Under the US-China New Cold War, Can Singapore Still Afford “Not to Choose Sides?”]《關鍵評論》[The News Lens] (3 October 2020).



新中關係雖然表面上一片欣欣向榮,不過可能已經逐漸走向一個全新和難以預測的階段。這種不確定性,部分來自中國和東南亞之間的長久磨擦,其餘則取決於中國做為新興大國和日以劇增的美中張力。以上對後冷戰國際規範的衝擊,也給新中關係帶來實質和潛在的挑戰。中方在包括外交等許多議題上,是愈來愈強勢。長期執政的新加坡人民行動黨政府,雖然向來以自己的政策敏捷和處事能力自豪,但目前在處理新中關係和外交上,卻顯得有些遲鈍和被動。出於弱勢的新加坡,要如何面對這一系列變數仍未明瞭,讓往後新中關係的發展增添不少問號。。。 。。。 。。。


Chong Ja Ian, “The Continuing Contest for Singapore’s Future,” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 24 July 2020.

As the dust settles after the city-state’s 10 July general election, Singaporeans are facing a new parliamentary term that promises to be challenging. Tensions will play out between persistent constitutional constraints and new expectations in the context of a pandemic-ridden world. Voters are anticipating substantive change following the unexpectedly strong showing by alternative political parties. The Workers’ Party (WP) won a record 10 seats, consolidating its position as Singapore’s largest and most important opposition party.

Beneath the excitement remains the fact that the long-dominant People’s Action Party (PAP) retains its parliamentary supermajority and close relationship with key state agencies, such as the People’s Association. This raises questions about how the nation will reconcile a popular desire for greater oversight and more diversity with a political system that remains dominated by a single party.

One theme common among the opposition parties was the need to have a parliament that is more representative of the different voices that make up the country and better able to watch over a PAP administration. The larger and more electorally successful parties—the WP, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)—were particularly clear in articulating this aspiration, emphasising a need to avoid giving the PAP ‘a blank cheque’.

Singaporean voters also seemed to support a more systematically redistributive approach to public policy. The WP, SDP and, to some degree, the PSP all took on positions to the left of the PAP, putting forward proposals for a national minimum wage, redundancy insurance, and support for unpaid caregivers to apply across the board. The PAP, on the other hand, kept to its traditional emphasis on the efforts of individuals and families, with minimalist state support supplemented by one-off transfers.

Acceptance of, even enthusiasm for, more left-leaning proposals suggests that Singaporeans are willing to consider different social and economic policy settings. This shift in popular sentiment is perhaps unsurprising, given the widespread concern about the impacts of a prolonged global economic slowdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another takeaway from this election is Singaporeans’ apparent readiness to have more open discussions about race, discrimination and bullying. Half-way through the election campaign, news broke that one of the WP’s candidates, Raeesah Khan, had posted strongly worded statements about discrimination and supposed special treatment. … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “Complications of Ethnicity: The Politics of Chinese-ness in Singapore,” in Diversity and Singapore Ethnic Chinese Communities, in Koh Khee Heong, Ong Chang Woei, Phua Chiew Ping, Chong Ja Ian, Yang Yan, eds. (Singapore: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore, 2020), 1–12.

Where I begin my discussion is to ask what people mean when they say they are Chinese or ethnic Chinese. There are multiple layers of meaning that come with that statement. The roots of these meanings are located historically in ideas about what China and Chinese ought to be. If you ask what China is or is not, an easy answer is “Well, China is today People’s Republic of China.” You can probe a little bit more and enquire how places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet fit within such a conception of China. Even such a simple line of questioning will quickly uncover the fact that claims about what “China” is or is not faces contestation. We cannot get away from this fact. Ideas about China encounter challenges because they too are historically rooted phenomena that will face challenge from new realities. … … …


Wayne Soon and Ja Ian Chong, “What History Teaches About the Coronavirus Emergency,” The Diplomat, 12 February 2020.

Lessons of transparency and transnational cooperation from the 1910-11 Manchurian Plague are still relevant to China and the world today.

Accounts about the disease started sporadically. Somewhere in China people were getting sick in unusual numbers. Then press reports started appearing. Large numbers of people were getting seriously ill along main transport axes. News of deaths soon followed. In a few months 60,000 people would die before the disease came under control. This was not Wuhan in December 2019 and January 2020; it was northeastern China from late 1910 to early 1911. The Manchurian Plague, as the incident came to be known, was the first instance of modern techniques being applied to a public health crisis in China. Lessons of transparency and transnational cooperation from that event more than a century ago are still relevant to China and the world today.

In 1910 and 1911, Manchuria was nominally under Chinese control, but years of foreign incursion saw Japan, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, the United States, and others jostling for power in the region. These foreign actors blamed the Qing government, then running China, for not doing enough to stem the spread of plague. The disease was allegedly transmitted from marmots to humans and later evolved to rapid human-to-human transmission. In response, the Qing court-appointed Wu Lien-teh (伍連德), an ethnically Chinese, Cambridge-trained doctor and public health expert who was born and raised in the British colony of Penang, to fight the plague.

Wu, together with his colleagues in China and abroad, implemented several familiar measures. They came to an early consensus that quarantine and isolation were the best ways to solve the problems and developed a variety of methods, some highly authoritarian, to stem the plague. They insisted on mask-wearing among medical personnel, demanded the cremation of infected bodies, imposed travel restrictions on affected reasons, built up quarantine facilities, and imposed strict home-quarantine. Officials rounded up locals using wagons, holding them until they were no longer symptomatic, disinfected houses that held suspected patients (against their owner’s wills), and forcibly quarantined people in hospitals.

The steps Wu and his colleagues took anticipate action by today’s Chinese government, notably the construction of a special care hospital in 10 days and the use of drones to ensure that residents not leave their homes unnecessarily and without a face mask. Such measures to control the 2019 novel coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19) outbreak suggest an unpleasant level of encroachment on personal rights, with which Wu and his colleagues would likely agree. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Is Singapore Ready for Malign Foreign Influence?East Asia Forum, 17 January 2020.

Singaporean politicians and commentators repeatedly emphasise the dangers of malign foreign interference. Attention has moved from a foreign academic being expelled for being an ‘agent of influence’ to civil society activists meeting with foreign leaders and independent media receiving foreign foundation fundingOpinion pieces echo the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) yet-to-be verified claims about external instigation in Hong Kong’s ongoing protests and discuss how Singapore may face similar issues.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is even convening a meeting for academics to discuss foreign influence. These events may lead to legislation on the issue. But Singapore’s approach to the management of undue foreign involvement in local politics can benefit from further discussion, explanation and refinement.

The city-state’s concerns are unsurprising. From Singapore’s perspective, the world seems increasingly tumultuous and uncertain given the possible economic decoupling of the United States and the PRC as well as more muscular foreign policy from both major powers. The island’s past prosperity rested on opportunities arising from the convergence of PRC and US economic and strategic interests. Then there are allegations of outside attempts to distort political processes in nearby Australia, New ZealandTaiwan and Malaysia as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States. These events are occurring against the backdrop of a leadership transition in Singapore, triggering its already acute sense of vulnerability.

Effective external manipulation of local politics often involves the manipulation of groups and individuals in positions of authority and sensitivity. This enables direct access to legislative processes, policymaking, policy implementation and sensitive information while lowering the risks of detection and the potential for blowback. Efforts to sow social discord typically rely on the exploitation of trusted figures, entities or sources of information to create or exacerbate existing cleavages.

Singapore’s minuscule independent media, feeble civil society and dormant academia simply do not have much social and political capital to be worth the effort to manipulate. They have less influence than chambers of commerce, industry associations and state-affiliated bodies that not only have foreign members but regularly interact with officials over policy matters.

It is unclear whether existing mechanisms can constrain persons in authority should ill-intentioned foreign actors compromise them, despite persistent warnings about threats from ChinaMalaysia and elsewhere. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “A Fraught and Frightening Future? Southeast Asia under the Shadow of Trump’s American and Xi’s China,” Asia Dialogue, 14 January 2019.

If the tumult from last November’s APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea is any indication, then Southeast Asia seems set to be buffeted by the playing out of tensions between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Both the Trump administration and Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government appear insistent on their divergent visions, be they strategic, economic, institutional or political.

This new reality places Southeast Asia on the fault line of increasingly opposed American and Chinese interests. Complicating matters is the fact that Southeast Asia is particularly ill-equipped to deal with the challenges and consequences of Sino-American differences and tensions at present. As a result, there is little to contain the growing competitive impulses of the Trump and Xi administrations in Southeast Asia and the negative effects that will follow.

One reason Southeast Asia is likely to become an arena for increased US-China friction comes from the fact that it is an area where an increasingly powerful and dominant China is developing primacy. Not only does the region physically border the PRC, but China’s most efficient trade routes to and from South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe pass through the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea. Disruption of such traffic will prove economically costly to Beijing, especially if there are impediments to the PRC importing energy.

Moreover, the ability to veto access to the South China Sea can help Beijing to defend its coast better, as far as the so-called ‘First Island Chain’, securing passage to the Pacific Ocean for its ballistic missile submarines. Pre-eminence in Southeast Asia also permits Beijing to put pressure on Taiwan and key American allies such as Japan and South Korea, given the importance of the South China Sea to their economies.

Beijing’s emphasis on investment through Xi Jinping’s signature ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) is a means for the PRC to consolidate its leading position in Southeast Asia. BRI projects build on China’s role as Southeast Asia’s top trading partner by tying key infrastructure development in the region to the PRC, and potentially also opening up participant Southeast Asian countries to Beijing’s political sway through indebtedness.

However, these dynamics can create serious domestic problems for Southeast Asian states. For example, the defeat in 2018 of the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition in Malaysia and subsequent indictment of former Prime Minister Najib Razak came amid allegations of corruption tied to BRI projects. PRC interference related to BRI investments has also become a cause for concern in Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. These developments come on top of Beijing’s continued fortification of the artificial islands which it reclaimed in the South China Sea to bolster territorial claims that appear inconsistent with international law. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Evelyn Goh, ed., Rising China’s Influence in Developing Asia(Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017); Journal of Chinese Overseas 14.2 (October 2018): 296–300.

China’s ability to shape policies and actions across Asia and beyond has become an issue of growing interest among policymakers and academics alike. Much of this attention comes from the social and political prominence that accompanied the PRC’s rapid and steady economic growth over the four decades. Evelyn Goh’s edited volume, Rising China’s Influence in Developing Asia (Oxford 2017), is a welcome addition to efforts at presenting systematic, theoretically-informed analyses of the way the PRC exercises power. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of “The Rise of China and the Overseas Chinese by Leo Suryadinata,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 91 (Part 1) 314 (June 2018): 51–54.

Leo Suryadinata’s The Rise of China and the Chinese Overseas: A Study of Beijing’s Changing Policy in Southeast Asia and Beyond is a very welcome addition to the discussion of ties between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and ethnic Chinese living beyond its borders. Suryadinata makes the case in the book that as the PRC becomes more globally prominent, it is increasingly blurring lines in its treatment of PRC citizens and non-PRC citizen ethnic Chinese overseas. This claim comes amid allegations of growing PRC efforts to mobilize ethnic Chinese communities abroad to serve its national interests, be they economic, political, or strategic.

These concerns are not new and are in fact a throwback to the past. They give the book an added timeliness and importance. For much of the Cold War, ethnic Chinese communities in non-communist parts of Southeast Asia faced the suspicion of being a possible subversive fifth column for the PRC, especially if they seemed left-leaning. Such perspectives diminished as the PRC engaged in economic reform from the late 1970s, eschewed radical revolution, and passed a nationality law in 1980 clearly demarcating non-PRC citizen ethnic Chinese abroad from PRC citizens. Recent reports of PRC efforts to lobby and police opinion in foreign countries using members of local ethnic Chinese communities ranging from Europe and North America to Oceania and Southeast Asia have again brought these long-dormant issues to the fore.1 This is an issue on which Suryadinata has previously written, and he provides readers a brief reminder of these themes in Chapter 3.2

An Awkward Closeness

Suryadinata organizes the book into four parts. Part I (Chapters 1–3) discusses the PRC’s rise to prominence from the 1980s till the present, changes in ethnic Chinese communities outside the PRC, and the organization of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO). The OCAO is the government body responsible for managing official ties with ethnic Chinese communities outside the PRC, be they PRC citizens abroad or ethnic Chinese who do not hold PRC citizenship. Within these pages, Suryadinata introduces his main observation—that Beijing seems to be reverting to its older policy of reducing distinctions between PRC citizens and non-PRC citizen ethnic Chinese in foreign jurisdictions. The key motivation behind this move, according to Suryadinata, is PRC efforts to advance and protect its interests and concerns overseas.

Part II (Chapters 4–8) examines how the PRC responds officially to events outside its borders that affect ethnic Chinese and PRC citizens. Each chapter contains a case where ethnic Chinese come under threat from developments outside China and assess the PRC position. Beijing’s reaction to the 1998 anti-Chinese race riots in Indonesia and violence in the South Pacific, Middle East, and Africa indicates a willingness to evacuate PRC citizens, especially those who work for PRC state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The 2014 anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, triggered by a Beijing-initiated escalation in its maritime dispute with Hanoi, suggests that the PRC is not above placing its citizens overseas in danger for the pursuit of more important interests. However, contrasting PRC responses to incidents involving ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Myanmar point toward an evolution in Beijing’s position. Beijing responded to alleged ill-treatment of its citizens by Malaysian police in 2005 as well as political pressure, even violence, toward ethnic Chinese Myanmar citizens in the Kokang region along the PRC border in 2015 with diplomatic entreaties. Such actions resulted from Beijing’s desire to maintain positive official relations with Malaysia and Myanmar. Threats against ethnic Chinese Malaysians in 2015, in comparison, saw the then-PRC ambassador to Malaysia publicly expressing an intention to protect these co-ethnics even though this was tantamount to intervention and divided local opinion. This step appears to portend an effort by Beijing to extend influence over non-PRC citizen ethnic Chinese communities overseas, even at the risk of upsetting foreign governments.

The next four chapters in Part III examine the ways domestic considerations in the … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “Aspiration over Actualisation in Singapore’s Approach to ASEAN,” East Asia Forum, 24 April 2018.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 50th Anniversary Lecture for the Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on 13 March 2018 was notable for its open acknowledgement of some of the difficulties facing ASEAN, which Singapore is chairing this year. Importantly, Lee recognised that ASEAN is, above all, a political grouping, and that some of its most pressing challenges are fundamentally political.

Both internal and external political forces are buffeting ASEAN members. On the one hand there is the growing influence of different major powers in Southeast Asia such as China and India and their diverse domestic influences in various ASEAN member states. On the other there is the still important but uncertain role of the United States in Asia.

Such developments call into question ASEAN’s continued relevance and unity. Unfortunately, Lee offered little in the way of concrete responses to the changing circumstances he sketched out, whether for ASEAN or for Singapore.

An important area of tension that Lee pointed out is ASEAN’s longstanding focus on consensus. Lee sees this ‘laborious’ process of finding ‘common ground’ as fundamental to enabling the group’s diverse members to move forward together on issues like trade liberalisation, economic integration and the management of territorial disputes (for instance in the South China Sea).

But recent initiatives by China and India to gain influence in Southeast Asia, alongside radical departures from past precedent in US approaches to foreign policy, are pulling ASEAN members in disparate directions. Responses to these cross-cutting dynamics — often guided by domestic considerations — make intra-ASEAN consensus much more difficult to attain. Projects such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the United States’ ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ idea may move ASEAN members in different directions well before any consensus can emerge. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Rediscovering an Old Relationship: Taiwan and Southeast Asia’s Long, Shared History (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asian Research, 11 January 2018).

Contemporary impressions of Taiwan’s relations with Southeast Asia tend to focus on flows of labor, capital, tourism, and marriage. Countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand carry the impression that they are the origins of cheap, sometimes easily exploitable, migrant labor for employers in Taiwan. Many people in Taiwan also see the former two countries as sources of brides for lower-income men.[1] These same countries, along with Cambodia and, to a lesser degree, Malaysia, are locations where Taiwanese capital is invested in factories for low-cost labor, proximity to Taiwan and China, and the relative absence of political contentiousness for being Taiwanese. With the advent of cheap air travel, Taiwan and Southeast Asia also offer the middle class in these areas options for quick holiday getaways. These interactions and the condescension toward Southeast Asia that sometimes accompany them belie the rich history of interactions that Taiwan and Southeast Asia share.

Taiwan’s own history is deeply intertwined and often runs in parallel with that of Southeast Asia. The island’s location off the Asian mainland and astride sea lanes between Northeast and Southeast Asia means that it has long been part of the networks of migration, commerce, cultural interaction, and conflict traversing the area. In many respects, these types of sub-state, social exchanges continue to characterize linkages between Southeast Asia and Taiwan today. Scratch the surface, and these connections are evident in business, popular culture, religious practices, family ties, and even the languages spoken in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Outreach efforts between Taiwan and Southeast Asia, such as Taipei’s New Southbound Policy, are natural extensions of these long-standing relationships and can serve to further consolidate existing societal and other bonds that reach across the South China Sea. Even if official ties are subject to the usual political constraints, due to either direct pressure from Beijing or preemptive efforts to avoid provoking China, substantive possibilities for fostering Taiwan’s relations with Southeast Asia remain.

Common Pasts

Southeast Asia–Taiwan ties predate the now familiar notion of sovereign nation states and their territorial boundaries, going back to the history of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples. The Formosan languages that Taiwan’s aborigines speak are part of the Austronesian language family, which also includes languages spoken from the modern-day Philippines through Malaysia and Indonesia, such as Tagalog and Malay.[2] Linguistic historians and historians generally attribute this spread of languages and cultures to migration across maritime Southeast Asia, parts of coastal mainland Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. This movement of peoples was possible through the maritime routes linking Taiwan to various parts of Southeast Asia, starting with Luzon in the contemporary Philippines, just across the Bashi Channel from southern Taiwan. Such networks of exchange manifest themselves in different forms historically, but nonetheless embed Taiwan in a network of interactions with Southeast Asia that casual observers overlook.

Migrations to Taiwan from Fujian and Guangdong extended the island’s ties not just across the Taiwan Strait but to Southeast Asia as well. Many settlers on Taiwan from the seventeenth century on came from Minnan-speaking areas like Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Amoy, and Quemoy, just as these regions were originally home to emigrants from Luzon, Penang, Malacca, Batavia, and Singapore.[3] Such migration patterns meant that family networks spread across these areas. The movement of people brought with it shared linguistic, religious, and cultural practices, with temple networks linking Taiwan, various parts of Southeast Asia, and Fujian, that are still active today. Minnan—which is the immediate linguistic family to which Taiwanese belongs—remains a main lingua franca for ethnic Chinese settler communities in Southeast Asia.[4] Given the long history of contact with the Malay world, Minnan, including Taiwanese, contains many Malay loanwords while Malay and Indonesian similarly borrow vocabulary from Minnan.[5] … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “È Complicato: Una Panoramica delle Relazioni tra Singapore e Cina” [It’s Complicated: An Overview of Singapore-China Relations], Relazioni Internazionali e International political economy del Sud-Est asiatico 2.4 (November 2017). [Bilingual publication. Translation by Giuseppe Gabusi.]

Independent Singapore and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have a historically varied and complex relationship. The two states enjoy excellent economic ties, which have been a key feature of bilateral interactions since the PRC’s “Opening and Reform” initiative in the late 1970s. Substantial cultural, educational and tourist exchanges are also a feature of Singapore–PRC relations. Yet diplomatic ties have only recently reverted to a general cordiality after a protracted two-year period of friction. There have been other, longer periods of estrangement between Singapore and Beijing – Singapore discouraged its citizens from having contact with the PRC during the Cultural Revolution and established official ties with the PRC only in 1992.

Singapore and the PRC are deeply economically intertwined. The PRC is Singapore’s largest trading partner, as well as being the largest of the other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). As a major international capital exporter, Singapore is the PRC’s second-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI). Singaporean investments in the PRC include major government-linked development projects in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chengdu, in addition to regular commercial interests. Globalized production and capital networks mean that the Singaporean and Chinese economies also connect through other economies in the region and beyond.

What must be noted, however, is the diversification of Singapore’s economy: ASEAN, the United States, Europe and Japan remain substantial trading partners for Singapore. Moreover, the United States, Europe and Japan are still larger investors in Singapore than the PRC in terms of both FDI and capital stock. Even if some proportion of trade and investment tilts more favourably towards the PRC, especially as Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gets underway, Singapore is likely to continue to seek economic options beyond the PRC. These relationships provide Singapore with some buffer against overdependence on the PRC.

The BRI obviously presents opportunities for Singapore. Indeed, Singapore was one of the earliest members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is associated with the project. To the extent that infrastructure development promotes growth in Singapore’s immediate neighbourhood, this could raise demand for Singaporean goods and services. Prosperous neighbours are likely to be more invested in regional security. Of course, Hong Kong is likely to offer competition to Singapore, particularly in terms of financial and finance-related services. Moreover, Singapore’s economy has been diversifying away from maritime services — they now account for only about 7 percent of GDP. This mitigates some of the pressure resulting from enhancements in regional transport infrastructure.

Externalities that could result from the BRI may be cause for greater concern. Economic benefits from the initiative that flow to various business and political elites in Southeast Asia may make the establishment of consensus more difficult among ASEAN members, particularly over issues that Beijing deems sensitive. Limited transparency and unclear corporate governance in the BRI projects may encourage rent-seeking and abuse, as well as distributions of costs and benefits that foster political instability. Furthermore, uncertainty over dispute management stemming from investment projects introduces higher degrees of risk in such projects. “Win–win” approaches and “setting differences aside” are fine until problems that require urgent management or resolution emerge.

Rules, procedures, norms, laws, processes, and their practice, especially as they pertain to strategic restraint by the powerful, are especially important to Singapore. This is an area of some divergence between Beijing and Singapore. Singapore tends to favour stronger, binding processes that guarantee a degree of even-handedness.

An area where Singapore–PRC differences over rules and processes are especially noticeable is over the rule of law in the South China Sea. When the Philippines sought an interpretation from an arbitral tribunal over claims on maritime features in waters it disputes with Beijing, the PRC called the processes flawed, refused direct participation and rejected the ruling of the tribunal. Singapore, in comparison, stressed the importance of the legal process and the binding nature of its findings even though it is not a South China Sea claimant. Rather, Singapore felt that complying with such internationally established legal procedures offered a better means of handling differences, maintaining stability and protecting its interests. A similar distinction appears to divide Singapore and the PRC over the degree to which a South China Sea code of conduct should be binding. Such differences recently presented key points of contention and friction between the PRC and Singapore. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Liberalisation in the Face of Existential Threat: Contemplating Political Change in Taiwan and South Korea from Singapore,” in Kah Seng Loh, Ping Tjin Thum, and Meng Tat Chia, eds., Living with Myths in Singapore (Select Books, 2017), 147–58.

One familiar, even pervasive, narrative in Singapore is that the country and its people live under the shadow of ever-present existential threats. Such dangers are supposedly always lurking just beneath the surface of internal prosperity and calm or just outside the country’s borders, ready to ensnare Singapore and Singaporeans if they should ever let down their guard. From successive generations of political leaders to senior civil servants, establishment elites repeatedly remind Singaporeans of these grave external dangers. They reiterate the need for Singapore to be ever vigilant in the constant defence against perils beyond the border just to be able to survive.

An extension to this account is the need to keep political and social liberalisation in check lest they render Singapore vulnerable to deadlock, susceptible to unrest, and prone to predation. According to this perspective, only a government headed by a strong and capable ruling party that guarantees political stability can protect the nation, its people, and its prosperity from danger. This reasoning provides continuing justification for Singaporeans to accept the political status quo and continued controls over political contestation and civic organisation in Singapore. By taking a comparative perspective that considers other states in positions of external vulnerability, this essay brings the tension between security imperatives and greater political openness, plurality, and contestation into sharper relief. In doing so, I seek to encourage reflection over the possibilities for stable political evolution, security, and prosperity in the face of difficult conditions. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Singapore’s Foreign Policy at a Juncture,” East Asia Forum, 8 November 2017.

In July 2017, a rare public debate occurred within Singapore’s foreign policy establishment. In contention was whether the city-state should defer to major powers or insist on pursuing its longstanding foreign policy principles.

This discussion came against a backdrop of China’s new willingness to assert its foreign policy preferences, apparent fissures within ASEAN as well as US capriciousness. Such developments have the potential to shake longstanding pillars of Singapore’s external relations. The debate reflects unease about shifts in East Asian politics and uncertainty over how best to respond.

Engaging China — especially in terms of economics — while encouraging comprehensive US engagement in Asia are integral to Singapore’s longstanding approach of ‘not choosing sides’ between Beijing and Washington. This policy assumes significant overlap in US and Chinese interests, shared major power desire for self-restraint and mutual accommodation and US commitment to the liberal international order it created after World War II. Recent developments seem to cast doubt on these long-held presumptions. In fact, the 2017 Qatar Crisis that sparked the debate stemmed partially from US disinterest and ambivalence.

Singapore is especially discomforted by China’s reclamation and arming of artificial islands in the South China Sea despite widespread opposition, and Beijing’s non-participation in and lambasting of the Philippines-initiated arbitration tribunal process. Beijing was also exceptionally harsh in criticising Singapore over the latter’s insistence on the rule of law in relation to maritime issues and the arbitration tribunal. The detention in Hong Kong of Singaporean armoured vehicles en route from Taiwan and the apparent exclusion of the Singapore Prime Minister from Beijing’s Belt and Road Forum further heightened Singaporean concerns. … … …


庄嘉颖 [Ja Ian Chong], 「『近』而遠之?探討新中關係與東南亞海事的新趨向」[Distance through “Closeness?” Examining Singapore-China Relations and New Trends in Southeast Asian Maritime Affairs]《怡和世紀》[Yihe Shiji] 32 (June-September 2017): 52–55 .

向来平静的新中双边关系近年来正在 经历一段少见的摩擦。虽然新加坡 并不是南海领域争议的一方,但是新中之间 所产生的张力,却主要来自南海纷争,特别 是两国对联合国海洋公约(UNCLOS)的诠 释和对中国在南海填盖人工岛礁的态度。新 中观点落差背后是双方对现有国际秩序、国 际法、海事管理,以及新加坡与美国战略合 作的认知差异。既使新加坡政府认为自己的 观点反映了该国在华府与北京之间“不选 边”的长期立场,但是海事和航海权益的问 题仍然可能把新加坡卷入美中紧张关系。


新中关系近几年降温最具代表性的现 象,可能是中国媒体对新加坡的一系列公 开批评。声称新加坡在南海议题上“偏袒 美国,反对中国”的中国媒体报导和论点日 益普遍。中国媒体因官方管制,能持续一段 时间的论述,多少反映了与中国政府有一定 的默契。去年秋天还见新加坡驻中国大使 罗家良与中国新华集团旗下《环球时报》 主编胡锡进在该报上进行了几回合的公开 笔战。争议的焦点是《环时》认为新加坡政 府在2016年委内瑞拉非结盟国家运动高峰 会议上的发言提到南海法治问题,意图偏袒 美国政府的立场与中国作对,间接谴责中国 官方立场。当时中国外交部发言人耿爽在记 者招待会上更似乎间接认同了《环时》的观 点。新加坡官方则反对如此解读。  。。。


Ja Ian Chong, “Singapore Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Embrace,” East Asia Forum, 17 June 2017.

A key feature of Singapore’s foreign and security policy is its insistence to not ‘choose sides’ between the United States and China. Singapore’s longstanding approach has so far relied on substantive overlaps in US and Chinese strategic interests. But changing strategic orientations in Beijing and Washington now see greater Chinese willingness to apply pressure to achieve its interests, as well as less US attentiveness to the region. Singapore’s traditional political space may be shrinking, as might that of its traditional partners in ASEAN and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. These developments may press the city-state to fundamentally recalibrate its strategic outlook.

Differing perspectives on the South China Sea territorial disputes, the nature of Singapore–US ties and Singapore’s unilateral military training in Taiwan have made Singapore a target for popular and sometimes official criticism in China. Beijing apparently snubbed Singapore by not inviting its prime minister to the inaugural Belt and Road Forum. China also consistently warns Singapore ‘not to take sides’ when it articulates positions that depart from China’s, even when such statements simply reflect Singapore’s own interests. This suggests China’s preference for silence from Singapore on key issues.

In comparison, the past year has seen Washington’s Asia policy vacillate from opposing China’s expansive maritime claims to disinterest in the region. Such events make Singapore’s external environment much more uncertain.

With Asia caught between greater US–China friction, the range of realistic options for Singapore when it comes to not choosing sides is shrinking. Should the United States effectively cede its Asian influence to China, not choosing sides may come to mean that Singapore should refrain from actions or voicing concerns that Beijing finds objectionable. Such issues would at best emerge behind closed doors in bilateral settings where Beijing wields a significant advantage, given the stark power asymmetry. Singaporean concerns would be dependent on China’s pleasure. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Diverging Paths? Singapore-China Relations and the East Asian Maritime Domain,” National Bureau of Asian Research – Sasakawa USA Maritime Awareness Project, 26 April 2017.

Singapore and China are experiencing an unprecedented period of friction in their usually calm bilateral relations. Much of the divergence is over issues relating to the South China Sea, despite the fact that Singapore is not party to the sovereignty disputes. In particular, the two sides differ in their interpretations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and over regarding China’s reclamation of features in the South China Sea. Behind these differences lie divergent perspectives on the existing international order, international law, the management of maritime issues, and Singapore’s strategic partnership with the United States. Although Singapore’s perspective reflects its long-standing policy of not choosing sides between Washington and Beijing, issues relating to maritime access nonetheless threaten to embroil the island state in U.S.-China tensions.

China’s Dissatisfaction

Indicative of the cooling of Singapore-China relations over the past few years has been the rising criticism of Singapore in China’s state-controlled press. An increasingly common refrain in Chinese media outlets is the critique that Singapore has been siding with the United States against the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the South China Sea disputes. Topping this wave was a debate between Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, and the editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, Hu Xijin, which played out over several issues of that newspaper. The exchange saw China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs weigh in on the side of Hu. In contention was the assertion by the Global Times that Singapore’s mention of the rule of law in the South China Sea during the 2016 Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela was intended to signal a siding with Washington against Beijing. Singapore disputes this claim. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “What Does Trump Mean for Asia?East Asia Forum, 25 January 2017.

The incoming Trump administration may promise a rewriting of the US-backed liberal world order in place since the end of World War II. Based on campaign promises and post-election statements, Trump promises either taking on a highly aggressive outward stance or turning the United States strategically inward as it reverses US participation in international affairs.

During the election campaign Trump took highly protectionist positions on trade and promised to name China a currency manipulator on whose goods his administration would impose very high tariffs. Such policies depart from the US-sponsored liberal economic order that has been the bedrock of global economic prosperity since World War II.

Based around the Bretton Woods institutions and the US dollar, the US-led economic order was a commitment to economic development, liberalisation and stability. This came from a broad post-war consensus that the absence of economic coordination, beggar-thy-neighbour policies and the lack of an international lender of last resort exacerbated and prolonged the effects of the Great Depression. Moreover, proponents of this post-war consensus saw such conditions as creating fertile ground for the rise of fascism and, ultimately, World War II.

An outwardly-oriented, internationalist United States created the opportunities for the reconstruction of Europe and Japan and the economic rise of Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China from the 1970s. Southeast Asian states plugged into the US-backed international economic order and Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand moved into the ranks of middle income economies. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of “Wither the Balancers? The Case for a Methodological Reset” and “States, Nations, and Territorial Stability: Why Chinese Hegemony Would Be Better for International Order”; ISSF Article Review 67; H-Diplo, 16 January 2017.

Adam Liff’s “Whither the Balancers? The Case for a Methodological Reset” and Ryan Griffith’s “States, Nations, and Territorial Stability: Why Chinese Hegemony Would Be Better for International Order” seek to re-examine several foundational concepts in international relations scholarship. Liff argues for a more conceptually rigorous and standardized specification of balancing that sufficiently accounts for contemporary state behavior. He does so considering reactions to China by what he terms “secondary states” in East Asia and taking on the body of literature that claims an absence of regional balancing in the wake of China’s rise. Griffiths aims to tackle the issues of self-determination and order, which are fundamental to the existing international system and the study of international politics. He proposes that a globally dominant China that continues to insist on its strongly-held preference for territorial integrity is likely to result in a decline in violence from secessionist movements.

That both pieces draw their key insights from examining evidence from East Asia reinforces the promise of theoretical innovation that can come from carefully exploring evidence from a greater range of cases, especially those that lie outside Europe and North America. Given an intellectual history rooted in European and North American experiences of the World Wars and the Cold War, such perspectives remain highly influential, if not predominant, in informing critical concepts and ideas in international relations. Students of politics can benefit from greater appreciation for the degree to which it is possible to generalize common concepts across time and space. Sensitivity to the outer bounds of popular methods and theoretical explanations can as well provide more analytical rigor and precision. This despite the very significant contributions of the existing scholarship on the understanding of international relations. … … …


Ja Ian Chong,「比較的幽靈:現實與星港的相互想像」[A Specter of Comparison: Reality and the Mutual Imagination of Singapore and Hong Kong], in 鄺健銘 [Kwong Kin-Ming, ed.], 《雙城對倒——新加坡模式與香港未來》[Cities in Reverse Image—The Singapore Model and Hong Kong’s Future], (香港 [Hong Kong]: 天窗出版社 [Enrich Culture Group Limited], 2016), 16–19.

對比新加坡和香港的分析很多,但是很少著作會有鄺健銘的《雙城對倒 — 新加坡模式與香港未來》如此細膩的觀察和嚴謹的分析。他畢竟除了是港人以外,還是長年旅居星國的學者,從近距離接觸和研究島國的政治與社會。鄺健銘做新港觀察有一個獨特的切入點,在這方面特別佔優勢。我非常幸運因為鄺健銘的邀請,跟這個計劃能掛上一點小小的關係。


新港比較研究以上關係到一個很根本的問題:香港、新加坡到底能向對方學多少?應該學些甚麼,又不應該學些甚麼?我想在這篇短短的文章中稍微提出我一些淺見,讓各位讀者做一個參考。畢竟,我在某程度上,正好是鄺健銘的相反。我是土生土長的新加坡人,不過曾在香港工作,很僥倖有機會接觸到香港,對香港也有某些小小觀察、情感和記憶。… … …


庄嘉颖 [Ja Ian Chong],「亞西安墨守成規的風險」[ASEAN and the Risks of Sticking by the Book] 《怡和世紀》[Yihe Shiji] 30 (October 2016 — January 2017): 52–55.

近年南海领海争端加剧以及中国与 日俱增的经济影响,一直在激化 亚细安内部的分歧。各成员国立场的差异, 从今年六月和七月分别在云南和老挝举办 的多国会议上可见。亚细安成员国当时要 在南海主权问题上建立基本共识所面对的 困难特别明显。今年九月在万象举行的亚 细安-中国高峰会议上,各方似乎也只能暂 时回避异议,再度同意遵守已有的海军《海 上意外相遇规则》(Code for Unexpected Encounters at Sea,简称CUES)。除非亚 细安成员国正视并着手整合其组织的内部 运作和操作,这个历经冷战和后冷战时期 的东南亚区域组织恐怕会面临被现实淘汰 的可能。为了开拓亚细安的未来,成员国或 许需考虑如何推动内部协调、理顺决策过 程,甚至调整心态接受其他东南亚区域组 织的存在等改革方向。

革新,或许是让亚细安、区域内成员国 及其区外伙伴国更有能力处理东南亚内部 和周边当前种种挑战的关键。现有的亚细 安体制起源于冷战期间东南亚非共产国家 的利益考虑,也因此反映了许多当时的需 求,包括刚刚去殖民地社会对领地、领海 控制的敏感,应对外部势力介入内政的威 胁等。连该组织的不同中文名称也带着冷 战的影子。中国官方会把亚细安称为“东南 亚国家联盟”或“东盟”,这是因为北京把 这些非共产党政府当作与社会主义国家敌 对的资本主义联盟的一份子。台湾则称之 为“东南亚国家协会”或“东协”,这虽然 比较接近组织英文名称的本意,不过成员国因为要强调自己的主体性和与中华文化圈的差别,而以英文译音“亚细安”自称。… … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Feng Zhang, Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015); ISSF Roundtable 9-1, H-Diplo, 19 September 2016.

There are the occasional books that provoke thinking on long-held views. Feng Zhang’s Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asia History could be one of them.Most notable to this reader is the volume’s ability to bring the many limitations of various contemporary international relations theories into sharper relief. Chinese Hegemony introduces new evidence from a series of under-explored cases from late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century East and Inner Asia. Zhang’s rigorous effort to develop and evaluate what he terms a “relational theory of grand strategy” against this backdrop highlights a number of temporal constraints as well as conceptual struggles with hegemony and empire that many existing international relations theories face. The empirical richness and conceptual insights Zhang brings to the table also challenge some of the exceptionalist views about East Asian and Chinese regional politics that have recently gained some popularity in academic circles.

Conceptualizing Politics of East and Inner Asia

At the heart of Zhang’s project, which is a crystallization of several years of intense, text-based dissertation research, is a desire to better understand and conceptualize regional political order under the primacy of a China-based empire. To do so, this volume examines the relations between early Ming (明) China (CE1368–1644) and three of its immediate neighbors: Korea under the Koryo (고려 高麗) and Choson (대조선국 大朝鮮國) kingdoms, the Mongols under the Chinggisids and Oirats, and the Northern and Southern Courts of Japan during the Nanboku-cho (南北朝) period. Zhang’s meticulous survey of historical documents from China, Korea, and Japan, in additional secondary literature put his study on par with the best recent efforts to put cutting-edge social science theory in conversation with under-studied historical cases from Asia.[3] Chinese Hegemony finds that the interactions between a pre-eminent Ming empire and its neighbors create both expressive concerns about normative positioning in relations and instrumental considerations that center on self-interest.

Zhang contends that the grand strategies the Ming and its weaker neighbors adopt reflect a simultaneous awareness of normatively informed, relative social positions and consequentialist calculations of practical loss and gain. Grand strategies under hegemony in the East and Inner Asian context results from the interplay between the intensity in conflicts of interest and the degree to which interactions reciprocate expressions of relative social standing. (36-39) Consequently, greater conflicts of interest encouraged the Ming regime to seek centralization of control over scarce resources or use hierarchical norms and institutions instrumentally to further its interests (32-34). It tended to pursue a strategy of expressive hierarchy, which emphasizes mutual obligation and affection based on its primacy when conflicts of interest were less stark and when a neighbor reciprocated recognition of Ming preeminence. (34-36)

In response to the Ming’s strategic approaches, its weaker neighbors developed their own sets of relational grand strategies. (39-40) At moments where conflicts of interest were more acute and reducing ties with the Ming was preferable, less powerful actors may have sought to exit the system of hierarchical relations with the Ming. When there was high conflict of interest with Ming China and contemporaneous Confucian norms exerted some constraint on the behavior of weaker actors who also desired resources from China, the Ming’s weaker neighbors engaged in deference. If interest conflict was high as was demand for resources, but the Confucian-inspired norms of the time did not significantly limit behavior, weaker actors pursued access. These same actors took an identification strategy when conflict of interest was low and the Ming reciprocated subordination with expressive hierarchy. Zhang sees such regularized patterns of Confucian-influenced interaction under Ming primacy as forming the institutions of an East and Inner Asian international society that is akin to the normative order that shaped the European international society examined by English School scholars. (153-73) … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “ASEAN and the Risks of Business as Usual,” National Bureau of Asian Research – Sasakawa USA Maritime Awareness Project, 3 August 2016.

Growing tensions over competing South China Sea claims, coupled with China’s increasing economic influence, are aggravating long-standing cleavages within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Intra-ASEAN differences are evident in the clear difficulty the grouping’s members have faced when trying to devise joint positions regarding the South China Sea, including during major meetings at Yunnan and Vientiane in June and July 2016. Unless its members reconfigure the way ASEAN operates, the organization risks irrelevance. Such reforms may include everything from bolstering the organization’s capacity for internal coordination to reworking decision-making processes or accepting the formation of more, and even alternate, regional subgroupings.

Updating ASEAN may be critical for enabling regional states and their extraregional partners to meet contemporary challenges in Southeast Asia and in the surrounding area. ASEAN in its current form is an arrangement that initially grew out of Cold War considerations among non-Communist Southeast Asian governments and continues to reflect many of the institutional legacies of its founding. However, an ASEAN with a diminished role and relevance means not only a reduced stature for its members but also an East Asian region where major-power friction is increasingly direct. Whatever the faults of “ASEAN centrality” in regional cooperation, it can be a useful fiction that allows regional actors to coalesce around the lowest common denominator to avoid escalating tensions and even seek cooperation. An ASEAN with members that are less able to find common ground on basic issues may mean greater challenges in defusing tensions and delaying divisive decisions.

Unfortunately, for ASEAN members, and perhaps the region more broadly, there is too much reticence over updating ASEAN to more adequately address contemporary regional politics. Members continue to emphasize consensus, autonomy, noninterference, and ASEAN’s centrality in regional cooperation, along with a desire not to choose sides between the United States and China. This translates into inaction on some issues and sporadic attention to others, even as member states address national concerns at the expense of collective action. A consequence is that ASEAN appears somewhat out of sync with a changing regional environment, yet does not have a concrete response to the situation. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “The Collective Influence of Smaller States on the U.S.-China Security Dilemma,” in Ooi Kee Beng, ed., The Third ASEAN Reader (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Press, 2015), 157–59.

Sino-US disquiet over East Asia in recent years highlight the collective role that non-leading regional states have in exacerbating security dilemmas between major powers at moments of power transition. Security dilemmas occur when actors view their own attempts to enhance security as benign, but are seen as threatening by others — particularly competitors. Defending against perceived threats may consequently agitate potential rivals and ironically make other actors feel less secure. How regional states from Japan and Korea, through various ASEAN members along with Australia, individually respond to Chinese and US initiatives can unfortunately further aggravate Sino-US suspicions, even if inadvertently. After all, support from regional actors has influence on the success of bilateral, as well as multilateral, initiatives, arrangements, and institutions that ground US and Chinese efforts to maintain or modify the prevailing order in East Asia. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Ja Ian Chong, “The Challenge of Maintaining American Security Ties in Post-Authoritarian East Asia,” The National Interest, 29 January 2015

Washington must address the challenges associated with political transition to better mitigate the various risks associated with the liberal democratization of its East Asian partners.

The United States faces challenges trying to maintain robust security partnerships with politically liberalizing societies where Washington was perceived complicit in suppression of legitimate indigenous interests. This mixed legacy can inspire electorally empowered publics to raise new complications for continued U.S. presence and influence. Washington must understand and mitigate attendant risks. To explain why and how, we draw on in-depth conversations and interviews with a wide variety of interlocutors in the societies discussed.

New domestic dynamics in politically liberalizing societies demand revisions to relations with Washington, complicating a range of U.S. interests, including forward deployment, ensuring freedom of navigation and maintaining regional stability. Yet, these societies often wish to maintain substantive security cooperation with Washington. Hence, their “ambivalent alignment.” Today, these developments are most readily apparent in East Asian societies, complicating “rebalancing” efforts. Over time, the legacy of American complicity in single-party dominance and even authoritarian rule may likewise affect the U.S. position in other key regions such as the Middle East.

Washington must actively address challenges associated with political transition to better mitigate the attendant volatility and risks associated with such processes. American policy makers have to recognize how American security ties influence the politics of liberalization and consider measures to preemptively dampen fallout that may follow from attempts at using perceptions of the United States for partisan mobilization. The U.S. military, in particular, should minimize negative social effects associated with numerous personnel operating from a given area. These concerns are especially salient in areas where the United States has a long relationship with a previously dominant regime. … … …


Allen R. CarlsonJa Ian Chong, and William Hurst, “China’s Hong Kong Headache: What Will Beijing Do About the Protests?The National Interest, 3 October 2014.

“Hong Kong this week has looked ominously like Beijing in the spring of 1989.”

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. It is also, since 1997, part of the People’s Republic of China. For almost two decades, it has maintained its distinct character; and Beijing adhered to the well-known “one country, two systems” formula, enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1985 and the Hong Kong Basic Law.

Over the years, many critics have doubted Beijing’s sincerity in maintaining this structure, voicing strong concerns when leaders in Hong Kong or the Mainland appeared willing to encroach upon it, as when harsh anti-sedition provisions were included in a law tabled in 2003. After mass protests and widespread criticism, the law was withdrawn. Overall, though, Hong Kong’s system has worked remarkably well, fostering exactly the sort of stability and peace in and around the region that Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed in his remarks on Tuesday. Hong Kong, unlike Tibet or Xinjiang, has not been a place of unrest or discontent. Central leaders even pointed to Hong Kong’s success in efforts to cajole Taiwan into considering closer links with the Mainland.

This positive and promising situation is now in profound jeopardy. Many in Hong Kong have grown to resent what they see as the heavy-handedness of Chinese policies toward their city, especially in the wake of Xi Jinping’s rise to power. Many are also deeply unsatisfied with local leaders (most of whom are elected at best indirectly), whom they perceive as prioritizing either their own particularistic interests or those of Beijing over those of ordinary Hong Kongers. Conversely, Beijing’s patience has been strained with what it views as the Hong Kong people’s failure to appreciate their good fortune and accept their position as part of the People’s Republic’s centralist “system.” These divergent perspectives have come to a head in the last week. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Author’s Response,” Roundtable on Ja Ian Chong, External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Indonesia and Thailand, 1893-1952 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012); H-Diplo/ISSF 7.5 (9 November 2014).

Rethinking External Intervention and State Formation: A Response

It is a rare honor for a work to receive thoughtful, sustained criticism and feedback, especially from three top scholars in the field. In the case of my book, External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Indonesia, Thailand—1893-1952, the three reviewers, Joseph Parent, Thomas Pepinsky, and Feng Zhang do an exceptional job of highlighting areas that I either did not address, or failed to cover sufficiently, in part due to limitations of space, time, and resources. These observations lay the ground and specify the scope for subsequent research, especially in the domains of foreign intervention, state formation, and nationalism. Let me begin by responding to common areas of concern raised by the reviews before I provide some reactions to some of the observations that are more specific to the individual reviewers.

Anticipated Opportunity Costs

Joseph Parent and Thomas Pepinsky take some issue with my use of opportunity costs, or more precisely expected or anticipated opportunity costs, to ascertain the approach an outside power takes toward a potential target for intervention. Parent argues that I engage in “too much telling and too little showing,” making it difficult to verify and falsify my claims. Pepinsky observes that assessing expected opportunity costs is even more difficult than I acknowledge given that states “would be expected to understand that they can change one another’s anticipated costs of intervention through their own strategies of communication.”

For me, expected opportunity costs of intervention is based on the degree to which leaders of a potential intervening state anticipate net returns from investing a given set of capabilities toward denying rivals access in a target polity outweigh those from the next best goal. (33) The more leaders expect returns from denying rivals full access to a target polity to outweigh gains from the best alternative, the lower the anticipated opportunity cost of intervention and the more extensive intervention attempts are likely to be. This comes down to how leaders subjectively anticipate future net gains, and they are more than willing to accept negative net gain over extended periods to realize such returns. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Will the Real China Please Stand Up?Dialogue, No. 7 (February – March 2014): 51–52.

On one hand, Beijing tries to assure its neighbors that its ascendancy will not disrupt regional relations even as it seeks to expand region-wide cooperation. On the other, Chinese actions indicate disregard for its neighbors. Such contradictory signals compound uncertainty regarding Chinese intentions and the implications of a growing power asymmetry that favors China. Regional states are more circumspect about Chinese intentions and discount Beijing’s outreach attempts, making cooperation more difficult, even for those inclined to work with Beijing. … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “The South China Sea Disputes: Some Documentary Context — Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Chinese Law and Government 46.3-4 (May-June/July-August 2013): 3–9.

The present round of disputes over the South China Sea took their current form with decolonization and the end of formal imperial rule in Asia following World War II. These developments brought with them a concept of sovereignty that associates statehood with distinct, exclusive territorial boundaries-territory could only be part of one state at any given moment.’ Historical notions of in- terstate relations such as suzerainty or unclaimed territory, which permitted the coexistence of multiple, overlapping claims, no longer have political purchase. Whatever the historical behavior of fisherfolk and local officials, the geological features and waters of the South China Sea now have to fall under the jurisdiction of one single government. This belief lies at the heart of the competing claims over the South China Sea. … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “Challenging Secrecy,” in “Big Question: What Should Governments Keep Secret?World Policy Journal 30.3 (Fall 2013): 8.

The increasing public demand for information is challenging long-held government insistence on secrecy throughout East and Southeast Asia. This applies as much to societies with open political systems, like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, as those with more government control, such as China and Vietnam. Citizens are demanding access to official information on everything from environmental impact assessments to development zoning and food safety.

In Singapore, perceived lack of transparency over population policy brought thousands out in an unprecedented protest in early 2013. Similarly, a desire for openness in the treatment of military personnel and the military justice system prompted approximately 250,000 people to demonstrate before Taiwan’s presidential office in August 2013.

The opacity of the Chinese political system makes it difficult for China’s neighbors to understand the motivation behind Beijing’s toughening position on maritime disputes, fueling regional apprehensions. Chinese officials admit not knowing the full extent of local government indebtedness, raising concerns about China’s economy. The fact that member governments appear less forthcoming about ASEAN activities encourages skepticism about the organization’s ability to deal with regional issues from maritime disputes to human trafficking.

Too much government secrecy can hinder cooperation in a world where information of varying levels of quality is increasingly abundant. Persistent official reticence promotes a distrust of governments worldwide. Citizens, businesses, and other governments may fear the worst under such conditions. Governments do need confidentiality to function, yet need to develop procedures for responding effectively to shifting demands of openness and secrecy. Developments in this direction benefit citizens, businesses, governance, and foreign policy. This is an area where Asian governments can do more. … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “The Collective Influence of Smaller States in the U.S.-China Security Dilemma,” Asia Pacific Bulletin 193 (Washington, DC: East-West Center, 20 December 2012).

Sino-US disquiet over East Asia in recent years highlight the collective role that nonleading regional states have in exacerbating security dilemmas between major powers at moments of power transition. Security dilemmas occur when actors view their own attempts to enhance security as benign, but are seen as threatening by others—particularly competitors. Defending against perceived threats may consequently agitate potential rivals and ironically make other actors feel less secure. How regional states from Japan and Korea, through various ASEAN members along with Australia, individually respond to Chinese and US initiatives can unfortunately further aggravate Sino-US suspicions, even if inadvertently. After all, support from regional actors has influence on the success of bilateral, as well as multilateral, initiatives, arrangements, and institutions that ground US and Chinese efforts to maintain or modify the prevailing order in East Asia. 

Cooperation, Transition, and Friction

Regardless of whether power transition is real or perceived, expectations about substantial shifts in international politics can be disconcerting. The preeminent power—the United States in this case—worries about how to best maintain its interests and leading position, whereas the emergent power—China—frets about ways to sustain and entrench its growing prominence, while simultaneously addressing potential challenges impeding its rise. Beijing views its efforts to establish preeminence in East Asia as a natural expression of China’s rights, while Washington sees retaining regional leadership as a preservation of longstanding American interests. Neither the United States nor China appear completely comfortable with fuller expressions of each other’s goals in this regard, especially given uncertainties over the pace of power transition and the long-term viability of each other’s competitive positions.

Individual choices that regional states make under such conditions of flux collectively influence the severity of the Sino-US security dilemma by affecting the context and environment in which Washington and Beijing operate. Governments from Tokyo to Jakarta are figuring out whether and how much political capital to commit to existing arrangements, as well as when and how to seek alternatives that may involve a reduced US role. A tepid and slow readjustment from existing US-backed frameworks may result in a regional state missing new opportunities, while a too rapid and drastic response could potentially result in foregoing—or even undermining—key public goods and benefits the current system provides. If smaller states appear to be quickly seeking alternative arrangements given these calculations, Washington may see potential decline as more threatening and seek to arrest the situation in ways that alarm Beijing. Slower and more reserved regional acceptance of Chinese-backed initiatives for more exclusive intra-East Asian frameworks may lead Beijing to anticipate efforts to stymie its rise, prompting more assertive behavior that in turn will cause concern in Washington. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “China’s Transparency Deficit Complicates Beijing’s Regional Outreach,” Asia Pacific Bulletin 185 (Washington, DC: East-West Center, 13 November 2012).

Just four years ago, China was praised across East Asia for its sophisticated and multifaceted outreach efforts throughout the region. Beijing was winning friends for its cooperative multilateral initiatives, development assistance and efforts to showcase Chinese culture. However, by 2009 regional countries were generally much more cautious, and many were unsettled by what looked like increasingly abrasive behavior by Beijing, particularly over territorial disputes. Why did Beijing’s charm offensive play such a limited role in allaying regional apprehensions? Much has to do with the deficit of transparency in China’s political system, which adds uncertainty and complicates efforts by other states to establish clear and dependable expectations regarding the future of their relationships with the People’s Republic of China. Unless the Chinese system becomes more open, substantial challenges will remain for Beijing’s efforts to build stable, long-term relationships in East Asia.

Translucence May Not Be Enough

China’s semi-opaqueness is familiar to many both within the PRC and for others who have to work with official and semi-official state institutions. From national-level economic, foreign and security policy down to local municipal and county-level bureaucracy, it can be difficult to understand how Chinese officialdom makes decisions and who calls the shots. Changes can be sudden and unexpected, just as it can seem unclear why apparently outmoded rules and procedures remain in place past their use-by dates. Beijing’s more assertive stance regarding foreign policy and longstanding—largely dormant—disputes over the South and East China Seas caught many regional governments off-guard. This element of surprise and not knowing who to turn to in the Chinese political system at these moments is worrisome for neighboring capitals, particularly given China’s size and stature.

Domestic actors themselves in China also seem to have limited clarity about policy processes and political developments, and which in turn makes understanding China all the more difficult for those on the outside. On the cusp of the PRC’s once-a-decade leadership transition, Chinese officials and bureaucrats can only speculate about the size of the incoming Politburo Standing Committee and who it will include. The real reason behind the two-week disappearance of incoming President Xi Jinping earlier this fall remains a subject of domestic controversy. Many Chinese academics and officials openly praised former Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai, right until his fall from grace last February. China’s foreign ministry seemed surprised by the PLA’s vehement opposition to joint US-ROK naval exercises in the Yellow Sea in 2010. Furthermore, there remains no clear answer about what has driven China, since 2008, to become more assertive regarding maritime territorial claims. If those on the inside seem unsure about what is going on in China, it does nothing to help those on the outside. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Aaron L. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), H-Diplo, 27 June 2012.

In A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron Friedberg argues that fundamental ideological differences, coupled with tensions inherent in power transition, have placed the United States (U.S.) and thePeople’s Republic of China (PRC) on a path toward increasing competition, and, potentially, collision. For all its apprehensiveness about the trajectory of U.S.-China relations, the book offers a familiar proposal for American policymakers. Friedberg proposes to augment ongoing economic, social, and political exchanges between the two countries with more honesty and openness about Sino-American differences. He argues that a reduction in the U.S. appetite for cheap imports and credit, as well as the continued development of American military capabilities and political partnerships in Asia, should accompany this greater frankness. That Friedberg adds another influential voice calling for movement in this direction suggests the development of what may be an emerging mainstream view about China policy in American academic and policymaking circles. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Yan Xuetong et al., eds., Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); China Quarterly 208 (December 2011): 1033–34.

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power represents an initiative by inter- national relations (IR) scholars from China to enter into theoretical conversations with counterparts elsewhere. This translation of work by Yan Xuetong and his col- leagues examines prominent pre-Qin dynasty (221–202BC) political philosophies with the aim of providing analytical, predictive, prescriptive and normative insights for IR (pp. 3, 21). This ambitious project may appeal to readers seeking an introduc- tion to how IR scholars from China conceptualize and apply pre-Qin thought to inter-state relations. More importantly, the book highlights major questions facing current efforts to overtly relate Chinese traditions to contemporary world politics. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Yong Deng, China’s Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Pamela Kyle Crossley, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton, eds., Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006); Journal of East Asian Studies 11.1 (January – April 2011): 155-60.

Chinas Struggle for Status by Yong Deng and Empire at the Margins edited by Pamela Crossley, Helen Siu, and Donald Sutton seem like strange bedfellows at first. Crossley, Siu, and Sutton’s book considers communities along the edges of imperial control from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries and their relationships with central governments located in China. Looking at official efforts of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to accommodate China’s rising stature with continued US preeminence, Deng roots his project firmly in contemporary international politics.

The two works nevertheless share a theme about how those in less favorable positions within a political system try to overcome chronic disadvantages in relative capacity, authority, and circumstance. Crossley, Siu, and Sutton explore how shifting social as well as ethnic status relates to various communities and their key concerns. Deng examines ways in which the PRC government seeks to raise its normative standing in the world by attempting to reshape the prevailing international system from the inside. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Michael Green and Bates Gill, Asia’s New Multilateralism: Cooperation, Competition, and the Search for Community (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Journal of East Asian Studies 10.2 (May – July 2010): 345–58.

Edited by two of the foremost specialists on the region, Michael Green and Bates Gill, Asia’s New Multilateralism: Cooperation, Competition, and the Search for Community offers an insightful overview of current East Asian international politics. The book focuses on the prospects and pitfalls facing governmental efforts to address common problems in East Asia. It draws together chapters written by top country and issue experts in this very diverse part of the world. Insofar as issues in the region now have consequences that cross borders and require joint re- sponses, the book provides a perceptive appreciation of recent devel- opments. As inclusive as it is, it might, however, have provided a more comprehensive analytical framework as well as more explicit discus- sions about how key minor actors and changes in structural conditions may affect multilateral cooperation.

Green and Gill organize the book to encourage “cross-referencing of national strategies and debates with regional challenges”. This is a clear and useful way to cut into the potentially confusing web that can characterize concerns in East Asia. The introduction, which clearly lays out both the book’s goals and the history of multilateralism in East Asia, is followed by seven chapters that discuss approaches to international co- operation taken by the main regional actors. The editors see these chap- ters as the “x-axis” of their “matrix” when considering the “emerging Asian architecture”. The second half of the book comprises five chapters and a conclusion. The chapters examine multilateral approaches to several issue areas, ranging from economics and governance to de- fense and nontraditional security issues. This second half provides the “y-axis” of the book’s analytic “matrix”…. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Review of Allen Carlson, Unifying China, Integrating the World: Securing Chinese Sovereignty in the Reform Era (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); China Review International 13.1 (Spring 2006): 93–99.

In Unifying China, Integrating the World, Allen Carlson seeks both to describe and to explain variations in the Chinese government’s approach to sovereignty issues from the late 1970s onward. He examines how the PRC government treats sovereignty in four distinct issue domains: territorial sovereignty, jurisdictional sovereignty, sovereign authority, and economic sovereignty.1 He argues that the variations in official Chinese approaches toward sovereignty during the reform period have been the result of interactions among a number of factors, which range from the normative to the rational and material. Carlson’s description of the dynamics behind the evolving Chinese position on each issue area is quite thorough, even if his explanation is sometimes insufficiently clear.

Through his research, Carlson has essentially found that the PRC continues to favor strong jurisdictional sovereignty and, to a lesser degree, territorial sovereignty. However, he also suggests that the Chinese government is increasingly flexible in the areas of sovereign authority and economic sovereignty. From these observations Carlson concludes that there is no longer a sharp division between Beijing and the rest of the world over issues of sovereignty. If anything, China is approaching agreement with global conventions on sovereignty…. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Chinese Interests in Post-Reunification Korea,” in A Blueprint for U.S. Policy toward a Unified Korea (Washington, DC: Centre for Strategic and International Studies Press, 2002), 33–36.

Developments on the Korean Peninsula over the past century have left a painful mark on the Chinese national psyche. Underlying these concerns is the perceived strategic geographic importance of the Korean landmass to China, as a buffer to both resurgent Japan militarism and on U.S. Cold War “imperialism.” Influence in Korea was the rationale behind the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894, and many in China view the Japanese colonization of Korea in 1910 as a prelude to the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and subsequently the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945. In 1950, the historical memory of these events helped provide popular support for Chinese participation in the Korean War. Many Chinese then felt that strong military involvement in Korea was necessary to prevent a repeat of Japanese-style aggression by the United States. Today, due to Korea’s geographical proximity, Beijing hopes to maintain a political and security situation friendly to Chinese interests. China alternatively describes Korea either as a dagger pointed at China or “as close as lips to teeth” to reflect this situation…. … … …


莊嘉穎 [Chong Ja Ian],新加坡國會大選的變與不變:行動黨依舊強勢,崛起的在野黨未必帶來改革壓力[Change and Non-Change in Singapore’s General Elections: The PAP Remains Dominant, Rising Opposition Parties May Not Bring Necessary Pressure for Change],《關鍵評論》[The News Lens], 20 July 2020.





這次大選代表的不是一個新的開始,而是新加坡長期政治發展的延續。… … …


Ja Ian Chong, “What Counts as Strong Mandate?AcademiaSG, 24 June 2020.

We will hear a lot about “strong mandates” and “strong support” as elections draw near. But did you know that a party only needs a simple majority of the elected seats to form the next administration (government)? With 93 seats up for election, a party only needs to secure 47 seats to form the next administration. The number of MPs needed to make or change a law can be as low as 14 or 15.

Some claim that there is a psychological effect from having a “strong mandate,” such as an overwhelming or a significant increase in the number of seats and, to a lesser degree, vote share. Alternatively, a significant fall in vote seats or vote share could have a dampening effect. A lot of this has to do with whether a party meets, exceeds, or falls short of expectations. The “strength” of a mandate may affect the confidence of a party in pushing for its agenda even when it does not have a practical effect on what they can or cannot do.

In Singapore’s Parliamentary system, a simple majority of 47 seats is enough for the day-to-day running of the country and passing regular laws. Any more than a simple majority does not make a practical difference for Singapore’s governing functions unless there is a need to amend the Constitution. So for the regular business of Parliament, it does not matter whether a party has 47 seats or 62 seats (this upper number can vary, upward slightly; see below). … … …


莊嘉穎 [Chong Ja Ian],被取捨的是誰?新冠肺炎疫情與新加坡神話的破滅[Who has been Traded-Off? The New Coronavirus Pandemic and the Bursting of the Singapore Myth],《關鍵評論》[The News Lens], 19 May 2020.

就今年3月底,民間移工團體TWC2(Transient Workers Count 2)才投書給流媒體《海峽時報》,指出許多移工宿舍因為壅擠、清潔狀況惡劣,大大提升了新冠狀病毒肺炎爆發的風險。不到兩星期後,移工宿舍果然發生了流行感染。


或許,這與新加坡人向來對於被要求接受各種社會、政治、經濟「取捨」而產生的盲點相關。在開始討論「和善」和「善意」之前,新加坡社會可以問一下自己或委託他人為做出的各種政策和法律選擇,與今天處境之間的關係。這種反思或許有助於社會改進決策程序和參與過程,找出疫情後希望達到和避免的不同的結果。至5月初,新加坡有兩萬多宗新冠狀病毒肺炎病例和十幾名死亡案例,使迫使人民行動黨政府實施「阻斷措施」(circuit breaker)封城計畫。整個事件揭發了星國高效率、高功能治國方式神話背後的限制,表明新加坡向來熟悉的菁英治理制度,還是有不少進步的空間。… … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Who are We Trading Off? Considerations for Singapore’s Post-Pandemic Social Compact,” AcademiaSG, 23 April 2020.

Singapore’s state-affiliated mainstream media has lately been publishing pieces relating to inequality. Undoubtedly, this has to do with the disproportionate economic pressure and public health consequences of the ongoing pandemic borne by the vulnerable. This includes low-wage migrant workers currently bearing the brunt of coronavirus infections, many of whom live in crowded, squalid conditions. The reality now made apparent has led to calls to be “kinder” to each other. Even if this plea is timely and appropriate, there remains the question of how our society got to its present sorry state. This may have to do with a collective willingness to close our eyes to the many “trade-offs” we have come to accept.

Before we speak of kindness, it may be useful to consider some of the decisions we have either made, or delegated others to make, on our collective behalf. Perhaps this is a first step to appreciating how Singapore ended up where it is. This may prove helpful for thinking through not just the outcomes we prefer (and those we wish to avoid) after the pandemic, but also ways to improve the processes through which our community makes choices that affect everyone. The 11 deaths and 9,125 infections from COVID-19 as of April 21, along with the quasi-lockdown conditions of the Circuit Breaker, should at least prompt us to improve how Singapore goes about its business. … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “After the Fever: Placing Singapore in a Post-Pandemic World,” AcademiaSG, 21 April 2020. 

As Singapore grapples with increasing COVID-19 infections and their consequences, a post-pandemic world awaits. This environment will differ from the one we all left behind in 2019 and the shifts will not only be economic. They are also political and will occur on a global scale. Singapore will need to contend with and adjust to these changes. Small physical size and dependence on international commerce means that Singapore has an overriding incentive to be sensitive toward the transformation unfolding externally. Here I try to sketch out some key dynamics I think are worth considering, bearing in mind the fluidity of the present situation and the limitations this imposes on greater precision.

One thing that will not change as a result of the pandemic is the importance of politics. So long as human society persists, people need to figure out how to live with each other and make decisions that affect matters of common interest. This includes ways to address disagreement and contention. If the mutual blame for the global public health crisis between China and the United States is any indication, major power rivalry looks set to continue and even grow. Rather than diminish, extant tensions within international organizations and friction over disputes will very possibly intensify. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Voting at a Time of Coronavirus: Discretion, the Better Part of Valour,” AcademiaSG, 21 March 2020.

Without a doubt, Singapore is in an extraordinary situation. It faces an ongoing pandemic, as does much of the world. Beyond disease control, there will be the challenges of responding to a massive global economic slowdown.

Amid the pressing need to address these concerns, no one I know thought that giving the People’s Action Party a fresh mandate was a priority until Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister, raised the issue. In fact, there seems to be broad confidence in the current administration’s handling of the situation. Even some of Lee’s cabinet members indicated more pressing issues exist, although there seems to be some change in views. The PAP’s current mandate is only up for a vote by April 2021.

Conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic complicate the electoral process. Officials appear to hint at a need to move away from rallies that involve mass gatherings, given the possibility of spreading infections at such events. In their place, may be online or streamed events that allow social distancing. Campaigning may have to depend on social and mainstream media as a result. The former tends to favor better resourced political parties and the latter, the ruling party. Individuals on quarantine orders or stay home notices may have to receive exemptions from Singapore’s mandatory voting requirements. … … …


孫世倫 [Wayne Soon] and 莊嘉穎 [Ja Ian Chong],從『滿州大鼠疫』到新冠肺炎,歷史教會我們防疫的二三事[From the “Manchurian Plague” to the Novel Coronavirus, Two or Three Things that History Teaches Us about Epidemic Control],《關鍵評論》[The News Lens], 27 February 2020.


二十世紀初的滿洲,雖然名義上屬大清江山,不過多年的外來勢力介入和競爭,造成日、俄、英、法、德、美等多國在當地角逐的局面。鼠疫據說是先從土撥鼠傳染給人類,跟著再進化成人傳人直接染病。強國當時怪罪清廷,認為疫情的擴散是因為朝廷不願意主動防疫。為了鎮住局勢,清廷委任了一位英屬檳榔嶼生長、之前在劍橋大學受訓的華裔醫生兼公共衛生專家,僅三十歲出頭的伍連德(Wu Lien Teh;Goh Lean Tuck〔閩南〕;Ng Leen Tuck〔粵〕),為東三省防疫全權總醫官,負責防疫工作。

伍氏與他的中外防疫同仁接任後,實施了一系列今天許多人熟悉的防疫措施。他們很早就對檢疫和隔離產生共識,認為這是控制疫情的最佳辦法,也採用了一系列其他防疫方法,包括一些相當威權的手段。他們堅持前線醫護人員工作時,務必面戴口罩、火化屍首、在疫區限制人流和外出、設立新檢疫設施、以及強制要求可疑病患進行嚴格自家檢疫。官員甚至利用車皮當街兜捕路人,將他們強行關押,直到顯然無症狀才準釋放、還對有可疑病例的房屋進行強制消毒殺菌、迫使可疑病患住院檢疫等。 … … … 


庄嘉颖 [Chong Ja Ian],應對外來勢力介入不可掉以經心[Foreign Influence Should Not Be Taken Lightly]《聯合早報》[Lianhe Zaobao], 4 October 2019.

新加坡社会近期正在探讨外部影响如何对当地可能造成刺激和波动。对这个议题持续的严肃对话和反思,有助于推动更全面的政策。毕竟,一个经由通商、投资、物流、劳动以及资讯往来,与外界有密切联系的社会,在施政和政治过程上,基本上不可能脱离外部影响。一套有效和持续性的政策方针,务必以准确、谨慎和冷静的风险处理为出发,而不是焦虑或惶恐。… … …

Ja Ian Chong, “Finding the Right Response to Foreign Influence,” Straits Times, 27 September 2019.

There is an important conversation about foreign influence in Singapore. Serious, sustained societal discussion on the topic shapes better-informed policies.

Involvement in governance and political processes by foreign actors is inevitable for highly connected societies, given trade, investment, labour flows and information exchanges.

A sustainable and effective long-term approach rests on accurately identifying and prudently managing the risks. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Dhruva Jaishankar, Walter Lohman, Shafiah Muhibat, and Yoshihide Soeya, “Diving into the Indo-Pacific,” ASEAN Focus 7 (December 2017).

As US President Donald Trump seeks to redefine American engagement with the region through his “Indo-Pacific” strategic concept, we invite five eminent scholars to analyse what this means for Southeast Asia and beyond…. … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “20 Years Later, Hong Kong an Embattled One City, Two People,” Channel News Asia, 5 July 2017.

The future of Hong Kong seems more unclear than ever, two decades on, and this perhaps reflects some of the questions surrounding China and its relationship and the rest of the world, as well as the growing divide in the city. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, “Navigating a Rock and a Hard Embrace,” Today, 21 June 2017.

A key feature of Singapore’s foreign and security policy is its insistence to not “choose sides” between the United States and China.

Singapore’s long-standing approach has so far relied on substantive overlaps in US and Chinese strategic interests. But changing strategic orientations in Beijing and Washington now see greater Chinese willingness to apply pressure to achieve its interests, along with less US attentiveness to the region.

Singapore’s traditional political space may be shrinking, as might that of its traditional partners in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. These developments may press the city-state to fundamentally recalibrate its strategic outlook.

Differing perspectives on the South China Sea territorial disputes, the nature of Singapore–US ties and Singapore’s unilateral military training in Taiwan have made Singapore a target for popular and sometimes official criticism in China.

Beijing did not invite Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the inaugural Belt and Road Forum, prompting speculation as to whether it was a deliberate snub. China also consistently warns Singapore “not to take sides” when it articulates positions that depart from China’s, even when such statements simply reflect Singapore’s own interests.

This suggests China’s preference for silence from Singapore on key issues. … … … 


莊嘉穎 [Chong Ja Ian], 「『美國轉向』與新加坡的困局」 [“America’s Turn” and Singapore’s Difficult Situation],《大公報》Takungpao, 17 February 2017, A12. 

中國與新加坡在建交前,雙邊關係發展就已有良好勢頭,然而去年圍繞南中國海主權爭議、美國「重返亞太」戰略等區域關鍵議題,中國與新加坡各自立場顯現分歧,雙方外交摩擦也較以往頻繁。原本計劃在2016年底召開的兩國最高級別合作機制會議「中新雙邊合作聯合委員會」被推遲至本月召開,這被外界視為中新關係步入低谷的反映;適逢美國新任總統特朗普履職,其尚不明朗的亞太政策也為地區局勢平添了更多變數。本次訪談邀請了新加坡國立大學政治學助理教授莊嘉穎博士(Dr. Chong Ja Ian),莊博士對東亞比較政治、亞太地區國際關係、中星(新)雙邊外交等領域有深入研究,在訪談中他就新加坡對特朗普政府外交政策的預期,及中星(新)雙邊關係發展等問題分享了獨到見解。



安全領域,美國可能會在亞太地區呈現過於激進的戰略姿態,引發來自中國、朝鮮等國的強烈反應,而任何潛在的反制措施都可能讓區域局勢陷於動盪不安。這些衝突不僅會對域內各方傳統意義上的安全造成威脅,同時也會對區域經濟造成負面影響,這自然對新加坡不利。因此,新加坡希望亞太區域內各種合作機制能夠繼續發揮作用,以應對上述種種擔憂。 … … …


莊嘉穎 [Chong Ja Ian],戰車扣留爭議,新加坡離中國的想法有多遠?[Dispute over the Detention of Armored Personnel Carriers, How Far Does Singapore Depart from China’s Thinking?]《端》[The Initium], 25 January 2017.




近兩年,可見中新兩國屢次發生摩擦。例如,在南海仲裁案前後,北京堅持仲裁過程無效,而新國不僅強調國際法的重要,又有與美國的軍事合作。及後,中國官方媒體人民日報旗下的《環球時報》,認為新國政府在不結盟運動(Non-Aligned Movement)高峰會議的發言暗指南海仲裁,大表不滿;該報總編輯胡錫進與新國駐中國大使羅家良(Stanley Loh)更展開筆戰。 … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “Strengthen, Not Alter, Parliament,” Straits Times, 3 December 2015.

The suggestion by Mr Inderjit Singh and Mr Charles Phua Chao Rong for a bicameral legislature in Singapore is puzzling (“Time for two Houses of Parliament?”; Tuesday).

Bicameral legislatures exist in other jurisdictions because they represent different types of institutional interests that have to negotiate with one another over policy and legislation.

These interests often separate along the lines of popular sovereignty and representation on the one hand, and state or provincial rights on the other.

This is the case with the United States, Germany, and even India, which the authors cite. … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “Freedom of Navigation Operations: Better Quiet Resolve,” RSIS Commentary CO15236, 6 November 2015.


Highly publicised American FONOPs makes it more challenging for many Southeast Asian governments to openly welcome such action. A more preferable approach may be consistent, regular, but quiet FONOPs by the US to avoid a premature raising of stakes.


ONGOING DEVELOPMENTS over maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea create a conundrum for Southeast Asian governments, especially littoral states with claims or interests in those waters. Events are increasingly heightening tensions between different sets of interests that these regional states have.

China’s extensive reclamation works in disputed waters and American statements surrounding its recent Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the same seas further complicate such matters for actors in Southeast Asia.

Self-interests in tension

Southeast Asian countries are eager to continue benefitting from closer commercial ties with China, which is ASEAN’s largest trading partner. China and Southeast Asian countries invest heavily in each other’s economies, while Southeast Asian and Chinese firms are deeply embedded in global production networks. That Southeast Asian governments and businesses wish to take fuller advantage of such commercial ties and avoid friction with Beijing is unsurprising.

Yet, for Southeast Asian states that rely on trade, frameworks that ensure regional stability, manageable risk, and low levels of uncertainty over the seas are no less important. Disruptions arising from piracy to heightened international tensions are highly costly to regional economies dependent on easy, low-risk access to the sea. Clear, dependable, and widely-recognised regimes that manage navigational safety, security risks, and disputes help ensure such access. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is one such framework.

Unfortunately, Chinese actions in the South China Sea may weaken UNCLOS. Artificial islands created over features permanently underwater or underwater at high tide cannot claim a 12 nautical mile territorial sea under UNCLOS, but Beijing seems to act as if this is the case by warning non-Chinese vessels against crossing these demarcations. Then there is ambiguity over the nine-dash lineson Chinese maps that undergirds China’s sovereignty claims. Beijing has not defined their meaning and UNCLOS does not provide clear bases for the “historical claims” China says they represent. Repeated public actions that appear inconsistent with UNCLOS can undermine its standing.

Freedom of navigation—A question of how 

With the exception of the Philippines, Southeast Asian littoral states are noticeably quiet regarding American FONOPs, at least publicly. This is despite the fact that they should be supportive of the principle behind the freedom of navigation—particularly if consistent with UNCLOS. Even Singapore, which has much invested in maritime access, only issued a lukewarm public statement in August 2015. Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stated that while the US has a right to protect its interests, “incidents” would not be good for the region. Reticence over possible US FONOPS in Southeast Asia may come down to the relatively high-profile manner in which the idea appeared in the press. … … … 


莊嘉穎,後李光耀時代 左右逢源此路不通[Having Things Both Ways Less Possible in the Post-Lee Kuan Yew Era],《信報財經新聞》Hong Kong Economic Journal, 8 August 2015.

新加坡過去半世紀外交政策的成功,很大程度上是歸功於一連串巧合的國際形勢和善用這些形勢的措施。隨着新加坡邁向第二個50年,其外交上的最大挑戰莫過於是如何妥善應對今後國際政治格局的轉變。要處理好這個問題並不容易,也許決策者們需要回顧過往和鄰國的關係,並檢視自身的區內地位以獲得新啟示。新加坡能否適應新國際 … … …


莊嘉穎, 從星洲觀看太陽花[Watching Sunflowers from Singapore],《破土》[New Bloom], 11 July 2014.

台灣2014年三月太陽花運動在新加坡引起了兩種比較明顯的反應。星國主流媒體和官方一般以亂象看待太陽花。民間和社會媒體則藉著這次運動,開始從新認識政府權限和公民參與的問題。怎麼說是「從新認識」?其實,上世紀五、六十年代,也就是台灣戒嚴、白色恐怖時代,正是星國反殖民、學生、公會等運動最活躍的時候。五、六十多年後的今天,星國在人民行動黨長期嚴厲執政下,似乎遺忘了自己的這段歷史。而太陽花在台灣盛開的時候,也正好碰上了英國政府開放大量外交與英聯邦辦公室(Foreign and Commonwealth Office)和殖民地辦公室(Colonial Office)的歷史檔案。這兩件似乎沒有關聯的事情放在一起,再加上星國近幾年在人口、公共交通、貧富懸殊、房價、物價上受到的衝激,啟發了關心社會議題的新加坡人對政治制度的反思。

星國主流媒體和官方對太陽花的不以為然,甚至否定,一點都不意外。人民行動黨在六十年代末、七十年代初,鞏固政權後,就如當時在台灣的國民黨政府,以「反共」、「國家安全」、「社會穩定」、「和快速經濟發展」為由,用高壓手段管制社會,制止公民社會、社會運動。在行動黨長期執政下的主流大眾媒體、教育制度,也都以強調社會穩定,醜化社會運動,削弱對當局的反對聲音。因此,星國官方聲音和政府投資基金為最大股東的主流媒體,一貫的作風和態度就是對於社會運動以及群眾抗議行動進行批評,甚至抹黑。既是國外發生的示威、抗議活動也不例外。當然,在這樣的長期影響下,不少新加坡人,跟一些台灣老一輩的人一樣,認為反抗就是不穩定,就是危險。這種現象在有過一黨獨大經歷的台灣,一點也不稀奇。 … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, “Of Liberalization and Externalities,” Thinking Taiwan, 6 May 2014.

Much of the rhetoric in the current debate over the Cross-Strait Services and Trade Agreement centers on whether Taiwan seeks to be an open economy or a closed, autarkic country. This is the wrong argument to have. In a globalized world, Taiwan will find it difficult to avoid opening its economy further. That opening has to include China, since it is a major player in the world economy. This much was clear from the earlier discussion surrounding whether or not to conclude the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA); there was little disagreement that economic ties with China and other parts of the world are important to Taiwan. Taiwan is, after all, a trade-dependent economy and already tightly integrated into the world economic system. Where Taiwanese and their government have an important choice is over how to open their economy. This is not a strictly China-related issue.

Managing economic openness and its consequences is far more complex than aggregate figures on GDP numbers, growth rates, average incomes, employment rates, and even concerns about political influence from Beijing. Whichever administration in office in Taipei, along with Taiwan’s population, will have to consider the distributional implications of economic liberalization and its second-order effects. If higher economic growth rates, foreign investment, and export figures are the upsides from an open economy in today’s world, then rising income inequality, increasing prices, and stagnant median incomes are the downsides. There is also the uncertainty of commitments that come with cross-boundary bilateral agreements. Such matters directly affect ordinary people and the political choices they make, including at the ballot box and elsewhere. Yet, the current administration in Taipei seems to be paying less public attention to distributional issues even as it pushes for greater economic liberalization. … … …


Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall, “Does World War I Echo East Asia’s Growing Tensions?International Peace Institute Global Observatory, 30 October 2014.

A century after the outbreak of World War I, concerns are mounting that new actors are poised for a repeat performance. Nervous voices caution that China may reprise the role originally played by Germany—a late industrializing, illiberal power with a rapidly expanding military that comes bearing grievances— and the United States may play Britain as a declining global hegemon and guardian of a liberal world order. Back then, dense trade relations, social exchange, and intermittent attempts at cooperation could not avert a collision, and some argue this danger is looming again.

Nonetheless, there are good reasons to question the analogy. Neither the United States nor China face the existential threats that affronted Britain and Germany before the Great War. Germany’s growing navy endangered Britain’s sea-borne lifelines. Facing expanding Russian military capabilities, Germany worried for its survival, driving its willingness for war. Today’s great powers are neither preparing for a Darwinian struggle between races nor locked in a zero-sum competition for colonies. Moreover, many believe nuclear weapons make all out war between the United States and China almost unthinkable.

That said, the pre-history of the Great War contains specific lessons about instability and tension, and many are relevant to East Asia today. This remains the case even if overarching analogies comparing pre-World War I Europe and contemporary East Asia are problematic. Three themes stand out in particular. … … …


Ja Ian Chong, Ryoko Nakano, and Sooyeon Kim, “Regional Architecture and Framework for Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific,” Online Report supported by the Japanese Government, April 2014.

The Asia-Pacific is home to several major world economies, and is undergoing increasing social integration. However, the region is also the location for several longstanding inter-state disputes, a number of which involve an ascendant China. These dynamics present challenges to regional cooperation. We will organize a public lecture series by distinguished guest speakers on Japanese strategic thinking and perspectives in the Asia-Pacific (3 September & 30 October 2014), a public symposium (19 November 2014) and an academic workshop followed by a public forum (8-9 January 2015) that examine these issues.

Specifically, these events will explore the limitations of current regional frameworks in addressing the tension between a need for enhancing cooperation and the demands for managing rising security concerns. Such an approach seeks to encourage an exchange of ideas that can spur thinking on possible responses to these issues.

Our project will center on the following themes:

  1. Security Arrangements The security component of the project will examine the various security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific and explore various possibilities for managing them. Issues for examination include but are not limited to maritime territorial disputes, maritime security, nuclear proliferation, non-traditional security issues, and the effects of the rise of China on existing security arrangements in Asia. There will also be attention to current security arrangements such as the American-centered bi-lateral alliances and strategic partnership system, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the proposed ASEAN Security Community (ASC), and the Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDA).
  2. Economic Exchanges The project will highlight the evolving nature of characteristics of regional economic ties, including prospects and current obstacles to furthering collaboration. There will be a particular focus on cooperative economic arrangements in the region such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the numerous bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). The work program seeks to integrate as well the politics surrounding bilateral investment treaties and the currency arrangements under the Chiang Mai Initiative, which all contribute as well to the emerging regional architecture of the Asian international political economy. This section of the project also aims to look at the domestic political economies of the Asia-Pacific that ground regional economic relations and the key political actors—especially multinational firms—that are at the center of regional production networks and supply chains Our overall objective is to enhance public awareness and the engagement of a public dialogue on the trade, investment, and financial aspects of the institutional architecture surrounding Asian regional integration.
  3. Political and Social Interactions A third element of the project explores the political interactions across the Asia-Pacific, both formal and informal. Discussions will center on dialogue frameworks such as the Trilateral Commission, Northeast Asia Trilateral, the East Asian Summit (EAS), the Six-Party Talks framework, ASEAN, and various ASEAN-centered discussion mechanisms like the ASEAN Plus Three (APT). This part of the program will also consider the relative dearth of organized transnational and societal networks across the Asia-Pacific. The project aspires to provide an overview of the cleavages in the Asia-Pacific alongside the strengths and limitations of regional cooperation across a variety of domains. The project seeks to engage experts from around the Asia-Pacific, including areas such as Japan, the United States, Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and Taiwan. In doing so, the project also aims to raise awareness and spur dialogue on these topics among the public in Singapore. … … …


Leonard C. Sebastian and Chong Ja Ian, “Towards an ASEAN Security Community at Bali,” RSIS Commentary CO03036, 3 October 2003.


ASEAN Heads of Government who will meet in Bali next week are expected to reaffirm their commitment to a set of comprehensive security principles for the grouping for the second time in ASEAN’s history. Just as in 1976, when emerging strategic conditions forced ASEAN to respond with new mechanisms for security cooperation, the threat of terrorism and other non-traditional security issues, as well as the economic challenges posed by a rapidly growing China and India, have compelled the regional body to address the increasing pressure it faces on the economic and security fronts. At their 9th Summit to be held from 7-8 October 2003, the ASEAN leaders will attempt to lay the foundation for the establishment of an ASEAN Security Community to complement the ASEAN Economic Community that they have undertaken to forge in the coming two decades.

The security community idea has been floated at a time when ASEAN member states have realised that the lack of direction troubling the organisation since the Asian Financial Crisis has not only diminished ASEAN’s standing internationally, but is impeding cooperation in the region. These factors are forcing ASEAN to reconsider long-standing practices such as non-intervention, non-interference, and the de-centralised process of intra-regional collaboration. Thus ASEAN is undertaking efforts to establish a regional economic community to better coordinate economic development. Significantly the ASEAN Foreign Ministers also took the unprecedented step in Phnom Penh last June of openly urging a member state to refrain from human rights violations.

It is against this changing backdrop that Indonesia in its capacity as Chair of the ASEAN Standing Committee has submitted a proposal to create an ASEAN security community by 2020. Driving Jakarta’s plan is an understanding of the strong linkages between economics and security. A new ASEAN security community, therefore, aims to complement the ongoing process of building an ASEAN economic community. Indonesia’s proposal calls for a framework that allows member states to work together on sensitive security issues—especially those of a trans-national nature—without the constraints current interpretations of non-intervention and non-interference impose. Most prominent in the proposal is the introduction of instruments for regional cooperation on counter-terrorism, trans-national crime, and dispute resolution that can make it easier for member states to request for assistance. Buttressing these mechanisms will be a second Declaration of ASEAN Concord formulating the future ASEAN security collaboration. … … …


Chong Ja Ian, “Washington’s Disquiet: A Perspective on Current U.S.-Taiwan Relations,” RSIS Commentary CO03027, 14 July 2003. 


When the current Bush administration took office in 2001, there were expectations for a blossoming of relations between Washington and Taipei. Given the strong support for Taiwan in both the legislative and executive branches of government, there was much enthusiasm for increasing “semi-formal” exchanges with Taipei at various levels. Indeed, from defence cooperation to intelligence sharing as well as political and diplomatic contacts, observers note that the extent and level of exchanges between the two sides are at a level not seen since the breaking of official diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1979.

Recent exchanges include meetings between a current Taiwanese defence minister and a sitting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence, establishment of a Taiwan Congressional Caucus, as well as a reported meeting between the Speaker of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan and the U.S. Vice-President. Overhanging these developments is President George W. Bush’s declaration that he would do “whatever it takes” to help defend Taiwan during his election campaign. Against this seemingly buoyant atmosphere, the increasing sense of frustration towards Taiwan among many policymakers in Washington seems somewhat surprising.

Defence Reform Doldrums

One object of the apparent irritation with Taiwan is the seeming inability of the island’s defence establishment to reform itself. According to the recently passed National Defence Organisation and National Defence Laws, Taiwan’s defence establishment has an obligation to restructure itself by consolidating civilian leadership and establishing greater oversight over the military. Under current plans for reform, there are also calls for the military to restructure command and control as well as enhance joint operations in order to upgrade extended defence and homeland defence capabilities. As the most recent National Defence Reports documents, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry appears to have embraced these concepts.

Given the potential that these changes can make Taiwan a more effective partner in a Taiwan Strait contingency, there is significant support for Taipei’s proposals for defence reform in the U.S. government, particularly the Pentagon. Defence experts in Washington, however, observe that there is little actual movement on defence reform other than acquisition of expensive new hardware. Reportedly, some American visitors to Taiwan found the lack of progress in areas of command and control, communications, passive defence, and infrastructure protection highly disturbing.

Apparent Taiwanese inaction despite strong U.S. support, and even pressure, is becoming cause for concern even among some of Taiwan’s staunchest friends in Washington. Much of the unhappiness over Taiwan’s approach to defence reform comes from the fact that the lack of movement on defence reform is casting doubt on Taiwan’s ability to be an effective partner-in-arms in the event of hostilities across the Taiwan Strait. At a time when U.S. defence planners appear to be seriously considering the practical aspects of military cooperation with Taiwan, there is a growing feeling in some Washington circles that Taipei is happy to “free ride” on the United States for its security. This is making some American officials to ask, “if Taiwan does not want to work on defending itself, why should the United States?” … … … 


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “Singaporean Foreign Policy in the Eras of Trump and Biden,” Political Agenda Podcast, New Naratif, 20 November 2020.

Prof. Ian Chong returns to talk about Singapore’s place in Trump’s foreign policy; how that will change under Biden; the repercussions of domestic behaviour on international relations; and how the lack of discussion in Singapore on where Singapore’s interests lie negatively affects the country. With the election of a new President, how will US foreign policy change and how will this affect Singapore? Prof Ian Chong, an expert in the international relations who studies China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and USA-Southeast Asia relations, joins PJ Thum to talk about Trump’s existing foreign policy and Singapore’s role in it; whether Trump has been beneficial to Singapore; the place of small states in an international order; the impact of a Biden Presidency on Singapore’s foreign relations; the repercussions of domestic behaviour on international relations; and the balance countries take between political, economic, strategic, cultural, and human rights interests (and why all those are interlinked).


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “Offensive Cyber, Singapore’s Election, and Pacific Disaster Resilience,” Policy Guns and Money Podcast, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 17 July 2020.

Senior analyst Huong Le Thu speaks about Singapore’s election with the National University of Singapore’s Ja Ian Chong, including why the results were a surprise for some and what they mean for the country’s foreign policy in the years ahead.


Ja Ian Chong, comments in「新加坡執政黨選舉成績不如預期,總理李顯龍會信守承諾早日交棒嗎?[Electoral Performance for Singapore’s Ruling Party Weaker than Expected, Will Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Handover Power Early as Promised?],《阿峇卡巴東南亞電台》The News Lens 關鍵評論網  [Apa Kabar Podcast, The News Lens], 17 July 2020.  





新加坡自1965年獨立後,一直以來都是由人民行動黨執政,而7月10日落幕的國會大選,不意外依然由總理李顯龍領導的人民行動黨繼續執政。 … … …


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “Singapore’s Pandemic Elections: What’s at Stake?” AcademiaSG, 21 June 2020.


  • Chong Ja Ian (Harvard-Yenching Institute)
  • Elvin Ong (University of British Columbia)
  • Netina Tan (McMaster University)
  • Walid Jumblatt (Nanyang Technological University)

Singapore is about to head into election season under unprecedented conditions. Campaigning and voting will take place under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a risk of misinformation and disinformation, and whether Singapore has the right tools to address them effectively is open to question. Partisan competition will occur with a new generation of politicians and political parties coming to the fore. How will these conditions affect such issues as representation, public debate, oversight of authority, policy delivery, minority rights, democracy, and even the social compact in Singapore? This webinar brings together individuals with academic expertise and community engagement experience to discuss these and other issues of key importance to Singapore.

Academia.sg held this event with CAPE, and with technical support from McMaster University.


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “The Future of Free Speech: Tech Companies and Free Speech,” The Compass, BBC News, 15 April 2020.

Tech companies now find themselves in the firing line of free speech debate. To what extent can they duck the issue given their global coverage? Is it up to them to police what people say from the dangerous privacy of their own keyboards? And with truth and fake news being trumpeted by the highest powers in many lands can they be held responsible for drawing the lines in debates about what should or shouldn’t be said, posted or tweeted?

And at the heart of the series is a desire to test the absolute conviction of those who would espouse free speech and see it as a basic human right?


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “‘Fake News,’ Foreign Interference, and the Freedom of Expression,” Political Agenda Podcast, New Naratif, 18 March 2019.

It’s been about a year since Singapore’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods held its open hearings. Although no Bills have yet been tabled, Singapore is expecting legislation to deal with “fake news” and foreign interference. But what would their impact be?


Ja Ian Chong, comments in “Nationalism and National Day,” Political Agenda Podcast, New Naratif, 12 August 2018.

This week, we talk nationalism and National Day in Singapore with political scientist Dr Ian Chong and theatre director—and former National Day Parade creative director—Glen Goei.