From 28 February to 1 March 2019, the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Programme of the RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies hosted a conference themed “Asia and the Humanitarian World” that brought together practitioners and scholars to explore perspectives, challenges, and opportunities for humanitarian action in the region.
In her welcome remarks, Prof Mely Caballero-Anthony encouraged participants to explore innovative means to overcome the limits of humanitarian action in the region while still respecting the sovereignty of states and the principle of non-interference.
The keynote address was delivered by Prof Rahmat Mohamad, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Universiti Teknologi MARA and the 5th Secretary-General of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (2008-2016). He highlighted that humanitarianism is not universally defined and accepted. He emphasised the importance of placing common interests, understandings, and values of stakeholders at the centre of discussions on humanitarian issues.
On the first day, speakers from the first panel on perspectives of humanitarianism in Asia explored how moral philosophies, political ideologies, and mainstream religions shape the way humanitarianism is defined, approached, and engaged with by China and Indonesia. The speakers from the second panel on multilateralism and humanitarian action in Asia examined the transforming leadership roles of ASEAN, China, and Japan in regional and international humanitarian settings. The speakers from the third panel reviewed bilateral humanitarian cooperation in Asia and discussed relational dynamics between the Philippines-US, Australia-South Pacific Islands, and China-Nepal.
On the final day, speakers from the fourth and last panel surveyed the key contributions, incentives, and roles of non-traditional humanitarian actors in Asia like the private sector, civil society, and militaries in providing humanitarian assistance. The conference ended with sharing of reflections and a meeting to discuss next steps for a joint publication coordinated by Dr Alistair Cook and Dr Lina Gong.