The Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme

About the Southeast Asian Young Leaders’ Programme.

The Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme (SEAYLP) brings younger Southeast Asian thinkers into the mainstream of the regional strategic debate by inviting them to be delegates at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. The aim of the programme is to engage young people from business, government, law, journalism and academic backgrounds in a high-level debate on the complex and rapidly-evolving strategic challenges faced by Southeast Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific region. The young delegates play a full part in the Dialogue’s plenary and special sessions, and join dinners and other social events which provide important opportunities for informal exchanges with global decision makers. The programme is intended to strengthen the contribution of a younger generation of Southeast Asian strategists to the formulation of effective security-policy in their countries and the Asia-Pacific region.

'I believe that, over time, SEAYLP delegates will help to promote the construction of a new security community starting within Southeast Asia. The Asia-Pacific region has been experiencing several security challenges, mostly dominated by competition between great powers, but the SEAYLP is a step towards keeping Southeast Asia in the driver's seat, steering regional security architecture towards peace and prosperity.'

Paul Pongphisoot, Lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

SEAYLP at SLD 2016

Launch of the Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme

The 15th anniversary of the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue witnessed the launch of this groundbreaking new IISS initiative, the Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme. With the generous support of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US Embassy and British High Commission in Singapore, the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta and OUE Limited, 43 young leaders from ten Southeast Asian countries were invited to the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in 2016. Highlights of the programme's launch included a SEAYLP lunch attended by distinguished speakers including Singapore's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Commander of US Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris, as well as introductions to US Secretary of Defense Dr Ashton Carter and British defence secretary Michael Fallon. The programme has been integrated into the summit agenda and represents an important new element of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.

Dr Ashton Carter and the Young Leaders

The inaugural Southeast Asian Young Leaders' lunch was held on the final day of the summit and was chaired by IISS Director-General Dr John Chipman. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan gave the keynote address, where he stressed the importance of avoiding a zero-sum mentality in the region. Observing that the US had been a major benign influence on the development of Singapore and other founding members of ASEAN, he remarked that the opening up of China in the late 1970s and its incredible transformation had likewise been crucial for Southeast Asia. Singapore, he said, had benefited greatly from China's emergence. According to Balakrishnan, Singapore had become China's biggest source of foreign direct investment and was collaborating with China to develop industrial hubs in Chongqing, Tianjin and Suzhou. He observed that developments in the South China Sea were a symptom of a strategic evolution, and a test case of how to manage such an evolution without destroying the enormous potential that China had to offer and without being forced into invidious choices. He further stressed that 'ASEAN centrality' was viable and not 'just a pie in the sky'.

Admiral Harry Harris followed with some US perspectives on challenges and opportunities for Southeast Asia's future strategic landscape. Preferring to describe the region as the 'Indo-Asia-Pacific', he observed that the Indian and Pacific oceans were now superhighways bringing the region together. Singapore's economic miracle, Admiral Harris argued, could be traced to cooperation with the international community to build and maintain the current rules-based order, which ensured open access to the shared domains granted to all nations under international law. Admiral Harris highlighted two challenges for the region: firstly the population explosion in Asia, resulting in resource scarcity and environmental degradation, and secondly militarisation driven by national interests. In addressing such challenges, Admiral Harris suggested that multilateral partnerships, built on trust, cooperation and collaboration could help to ensure access to shared maritime, air, space, and cyberspace domains.

Following a question and answer session with Dr Balakrishnan and Admiral Harris, Sarah Macintosh, Director General for Defence and Intelligence at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Stig Ingemar Traavik, Norway's Ambassador to Indonesia, Timor-Leste and ASEAN, shared their views on Southeast Asia's geo-strategic relevance to the world. Macintosh stressed the challenges posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Echoing a theme raised elsewhere at the 2016 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, she added that there was a need to maintain the current rules-based order. Ambassador Traavik said that climate change and the opening up of the Artic Sea route to Asia would bring Norway to Asia. Given the challenge faced by medium-sized powers in Asia to control their maritime boundaries, he reminded the Young Leaders that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was their 'best friend'.

The meeting concluded with a discussion session devoted to the Young Leaders' reflections on the Shangri-La Dialogue.


A growing strategic impasse in the Indo-Pacific?

Drawing on his experience of attending the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Evan Laksmana examines the competing visions presented at the summit of how tensions in the Indo-Pacific region should be resolved.


Reflections on the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue

Kelvin Wong reflects on the insights provided by senior executives of major international defence companies speaking at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.


Generational change at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue

Generational change in Southeast Asia will reshape the way in which diplomacy and international cooperation is conducted in the region. Paul Pongphisoot analyses this phenomenon, arguing that the IISS Southeast Asian Young Leaders' Programme is a step on the path to a new style of security community.