Think Tank (5/2023)
Participants at the workshop
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Humanitarian Policy and Action in Asia
16 Oct 2023

The RSIS Workshop on “Humanitarian Policy and Action in Asia”, organised by the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Programme of the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre), RSIS, was held from 16-17 October 2023. The workshop brought together scholars from across the region to deliver papers and to discuss the emerging humanitarian policy and landscape in Asia, its challenges, and the new dynamics of reform.

The workshop commenced with remarks from Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony, Head of NTS Centre. Prof Mely’s remarks emphasised the urgency and importance of addressing humanitarian challenges in Asia and the need for innovative, adaptive, and collaborative approaches. The scholars were also encouraged to actively engage in the discussions, share their expertise, and commit to working together.

The introduction of the special issue on humanitarian policy and action in Asia with the Journal of Asian Public Policy was facilitated by Professor Ian Holliday, Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Hong Kong; Dr Alistair D.B. Cook, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the HADR Programme, NTS Centre; and Dr Lina Gong, Research Fellow, NTS Centre. The discussion laid the groundwork for the discussions to come, and also set the tone for the workshop.

The first session featured an in-depth exploration of the progress of goals on disaster policy set by relevant actors. Prof Mely, Dr Cook, and Dr Jonatan Lassa, Senior Lecturer from Charles Darwin University, offered comprehensive insights into the prospects and challenges of reforming disaster policies in the region. They also discussed the coherence between regional and national goals in the face of the evolving humanitarian and disaster landscape in ASEAN.

The second session discussed regional humanitarian engagement in South Asia. Ms Junli Lim, Co-Founder and Chairperson of SEWN Stitching, and Ms Elisabeth Wickeri, Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, opened the conversation by contextualising regional mechanisms for South Asia, how the understanding of human security shapes the understanding of the refugee crisis, and what solutions can be proposed to refine existing policies and amend existing agreements.

Mr Martin Searle, research consultant from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), shared valuable insights on how the humanitarian principles apply in cyberspace for the third session. The presentation argued that cyberspace brings underlying unresolved differences to the surface but also presents opportunities and avenues for resolution.

Dr Sandeep Singh, Research Fellow from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, RSIS, discussed the concept of military humanitarianism for the fourth session. The presentation highlighted Singapore’s use of military humanitarianism to enhance deterrence, the role of the Singapore Armed Forces in shaping response during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Singapore’s commitments to ASEAN through military means.

In the fifth session, a study on Chinese Disaster Relief NGOs Going Global with a focus on the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 was presented by Dr Gong and Professor Zhang Qiang, Director of the Innovation Centre for Risk Governance at Beijing Normal University. The presentation highlighted how policy and institutional changes in China have shaped the humanitarian activities of Chinese NGOs abroad. The last segment featured discussions by Mr Aung Kaung Myat, PhD candidate at McGill University, Dr Cook, and Professor Holliday. The presentation provided an analysis of the humanitarian situation in Myanmar highlighting the emergence of grassroots actors, dilemmas of humanitarian actors, and opportunities and threats in the delivery of aid and support within the complex socio-political landscape of the country.

The workshop served as a platform for the scholars to delve into the multifaceted landscape of humanitarian policy and action in Asia. The event showcased presentations and discussions that tackled emerging challenges and opportunities in the humanitarian landscape of Asia shedding light on its urgency and reaffirming the importance of sustained engagement and dialogue.

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